Tag: Pat Miller

Lyric Opera Presents THE JAPANESE PRINCESS

Delightful

By Joanna Simmons

Lyric Opera presents the first in its’ trio for the 2017 season, and Camille Saint Saens’ The Japanese Princess is a wonderful choice of work. Having never been performed in Australia; this one-act comic opera is accessible and excellent. The story is simple so the main feature is the music; played beautifully by the Lyric Chamber orchestra and sung by the experienced cast of three. It’s a treat for the ears, and with dialogue in English and subtitles for all the French Songs it defies any old notions that opera is dusty fat ladies warbling in foreign tongues for hours.

The Japanese Princess.jpg

We follow the story of Kornelis, an art student who becomes infatuated with all things Japanese, and much to his fiancée (and cousin in the libretto) Lena’s dismay, becomes obsessed with the portrait of a mysterious Japanese Princess, Ming (not a Japanese name.) Ming makes Lena question herself, her relationship and Kornelis’ sanity. The voluptuous orchestra ornately guides the story with a nod to the orient with songs with colourful language and robust emotions.

Lena, played by Kimberly Coleman (and alternated with Kate Macfarlane) was naturalistic and strong.  She plays up the comedy where needed and connects with the other players and the music. Robert Macfarlane as Cornelius’s (alternated with Hew Wagner) dulcet tenor tones were right on the money. I wish his acting was as strong, as there were a lot of comedic moments that could have been more detailed with facial expression and timing, and other moments that felt forced. Arisa Yura as Ming, is subtlely woven into the story and is captivating to watch. She dances skillfully with a fan, her delicate hands well placed; yet then does some turns and steps that break character and genre, which feels disjointed alongside the music and set.

The intricate set designed by Christina Logan Bell that feels like the inside of a Japanese fan or tea house, complete with tatami mats, is beautiful and memorable. It, combined with the well-plotted lighting by Lucy Birkinshaw, transports us to this wonderous other world. Lucy Wilkins’ costume design fits well with the set and the era, adding colour and beauty with Ming’s kimono, and a neutral- everyday feel to Cornelius and Lena. Director Miki Oikawa has tastefully bought this production out to be one that is accessible in our modern day, in partnership with artistic director and conductor Pat Miller, whose passion and knowledge is evident, and should be highly commended.

The part I loved the most about this show was the beginning, where Miller turned around from facing the orchestra and invited us to ensure that our phones weren’t going to disturb the performance, but encouraged us to use them, to share with people what we are doing, and push opera to become something that is spoken about, shared, liked, snapchatted, hashtagged and all. In our world of watching videos for 30 seconds before getting distracted, it can be difficult to produce theatre to challenge our palates whilst tickling them too. This show is engaging and enchanting, simple and satisfying for the ears and eyes.

Lyric Opera’s The Japanese Princess played at Chapel Off Chapel, 11-18 March, 2017

Image by Sarah Walker

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REVIEW: Lyric Opera of Melbourne Presents STELLA

Appealing, accessible Australian opera

By Christine Young

In the first of its 2015 Australian Opera Series, Lyric Opera of Melbourne is reviving G.W.L. Marshall-Hall’s 1910 work Stella which plays out the tragic story of a nurse whose ‘immoral’ past catches up with her at exactly the same time her boss, Dr Kirke, declares his undying love. I hate it when that happens.

Lyric Opera Presents Stella Photo by Kris Washusen

The story is based on Marshall-Hall’s own fall from grace in the eyes of Melbourne society and his work colleagues. In 1891, he emigrated from England to take up the post as the first chair of music at the University of Melbourne. This was a coup for the university: Marshall-Hall wrote his first opera at the age of fifteen, and by the time he came to Melbourne, had written two more operas and composed many orchestral works and songs.

But he was also a bit of a ratbag as far as the conservative Melbourne establishment were concerned. Marshall-Hall publically expounded his views as a socialist, atheist and passionate artist. Marshall-Hall’s reputation as a womaniser was ultimately his undoing and he was dumped by the university. He went on to establish the Conservatorium of Melbourne, and wrote Stella which premiered at Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1912.

In all my theatre reviewing, Stella was my first opera, and I’m pretty confident from my experience that it’s an excellent choice for the novice. The libretto is in English which is a good start. This means you’re able to focus on the singing and the music without the distraction of subtitles. Moreover, while this one-act opera with its cast of five may have a lower budget than the big, lavish productions, the cast, composer, orchestra plus the large artistic team are highly accomplished and experienced in their fields. And being in an intimate theatre space, the audience has the advantage of soaking up the singing and live orchestra in close proximity.

So if you want to experience opera without coughing up big bucks, this is the time and place to do it. And it seems fitting that the work of a bohemian and socialist should be made so accessible to the great unwashed.

Soprano Lee Abrahmsen shines as Stella to pardon the pun, and it’s such a unique experience to watch and hear, not just Abrahmsen but the whole cast, express Aussie vernacular in operatic style. Abrahmsen’s vocal control is outstanding and at its finest during her arias that are punctuated with expert vibrato. For the most part, I was completely taken by Robert Barbaro’s (Dr Kirke’s) angelic voice above all others. The male cast members seem to have more chances to showcase their talent than the title character, and Matt Thomas (Mayor Chamley) also has a stunning tenor voice which meets the challenge of depicting his character’s inner turmoil.

Last, but nowhere near least, under the inspired guidance of conductor Pat Miller the excellent 16-piece wind and string orchestra achieves the impressive balance of making its presence known without upstaging the singers. Make sure you stop every now and then to focus on the orchestra. You won’t regret it.

Where: David Williamson Theatre, 144 High Street, Prahran (enter from St John St)
When: 25-30 September, 2015
Tickets: $49.50 (adult) /$39.50 (concession) /$35.00 (under 30s)
Book: www.lyricopera.com.au

Image by Kris Washusen