Tag: Richard Mills

Victorian Opera Presents THE SLEEPING BEAUTY

A classic reawakens

By Rachel Holkner

The Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault is one of the classic fairy tales, and one of my least favourites with its thin plot and troublesome resolution. I was not familiar at all with Respighi‘s opera before seeing this production, but I enjoyed it immensely. The story is fast-moving and compelling, and the music delightful. It was originally written in 1922 for an Italian puppetry company and it has been brought into the twenty-first century quite cleverly by Victorian Opera‘s artistic director Richard Mills and director Nancy Black.

The Sleeping Beauty.jpg

A cast of singers dressed in contemporary attire recount the story as it is acted out by talented puppeteers manipulating some remarkable puppets designed and built by Joe Blanck. They moved about an uncluttered stage with a gothic atmosphere, gorgeously lit by Philip Lethlean throughout.

Solely responsible for the movement and action, the puppeteers threw themselves, and occasionally each other, around the stage. In particular the humour and physicality of the Prince (performed by Vincent Crowley, sung by Carlos E. Bárcenas), with his Dirty-Dancing-era Patrick Swayze bearing, was spectacular. In gradually losing his puppetry aspects until nothing more than a pocket square remained, this became one of the strongest moments of the show as The Prince shed the trappings of privileged life to succeed in his arduous journey of discovery.

A large part of the production effort went into the lavish and eye-catching puppets. Although the inspiration for their design is said to have come from Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen, there are clear layers of influence from other Golden-Age fairytale illustrators such as Arthur Rackham and Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. There is some disjoint as a consequence, with the Blue Fairy being by far the weakest design in both shape and movement, yet one of the most prominent on stage. The smaller puppets such as the cat and spindle were far better developed, their movements lending Disney-esque moments of humour to the performance.

In bringing the story into the present – it is modern times apparently when the Princess is awoken –  there was the opportunity for the creative team to bring in some pop-culture references. This had a two-fold effect for me. Firstly I was annoyed that in trying to escape some of the less pleasant aspects today’s world they suddenly appeared on stage before me, and yet it gave a telling opportunity to reflect on that aforementioned “troublesome resolution”. The expectations for and treatment of young women today are at complete odds with the 1620s culture of the source tale. You could not conclude a story nowadays with a happy-ever-after via an non-consensual kiss. (Or more, should you choose to read further back than Perrault). Without giving anything away, on reflection, the recasting of Mister Dollar was very clever indeed.

The vocal performances of the entire cast were simply outstanding. Of especial note were the work of Elizabeth Barrow as the Blue Fairy and Raphael Wong as the King. One small wardrobe choice which did constantly irritate however was The King’s relaxed interpretation of the costumer’s memo as ‘casual wear’ instead of the neat casual the rest of the cast wore. I would hardly expect a King to ever be dressed in cargo pants and a hoodie.

The live score by Orchestra Victoria, conducted by Phoebe Briggs, was the finishing touch on this highly enjoyable evening. It would be a wonderful introduction to the world of opera, particularly for families.

Dates: 11-18 March 2017

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse

Tickets: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2017/opera/the-sleeping-beauty

Image by Charlie Kinross

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Victorian Opera Presents ‘TIS PITY: AN OPERATIC FANTASIA OF SELLING THE SKIN AND TEETH

In praise of a cabaret goddess

By Bradley Storer

A sinister puppeteer dangles a dark-haired poppet on strings, twisting her to his amusement and satisfaction, as he sings of the evening ahead with hints of the debauchery and debasement to come. The star of the evening, the international cabaret star and dishevelled diva Meow Meow, misses her entrance to the Melbourne Recital Centre (of course) and is forced to drag around props and costumes before she ascends a staircase to become a glorious goddess of the ancient world. We are promised bite-sized pieces depicting the goddess’ many daughters throughout the ages, from Ancient Greece to the modern day.

Victorian-Opera-Tis-Pity-Meow-Meow-photo-by-Karl-Giant.jpg

Meow Meow is, as always, a combination of high-diva glamour and self-deprecating humour, always ready with an off-the-cuff remark that never fails to make the audience laugh. Her magnificent voice is on full show here, from a gutsy alto to a light classical soprano all utilized to maximum effect throughout the night. Her leading man Kanen Breen takes on many roles in the performance, from lover to pimp to bishop, with a ghoulish visage, an elastic physicality and a thrilling tenor voice that rings to every corner of the Recital Centre.

The text of the performance, from composer and librettist Richard Mills, is quite dense and delivered at a rapid pace – the performers are miked but not amplified loud enough, so often the words blended into a flurry of sound, and climatic lines to songs were drowned out by the orchestra. The vignette structure of the performance also seems extremely rushed, with one or two sections going by so quickly and without remark that I found it hard to decipher what they were.

The show also never seems to decide quite clearly what their subject matter is. At the start of the show the proclaimed intent seems to be examining the evolving perception of prostitution throughout history, but what emerges seems to be more a comment on attitudes towards women and femininity in general rather than prostitution. While this is certainly not a problem in itself, not making the focus of the work clear only serves to add to the audience’s confusion. The inclusion of three dancers (Alexander Bryce, Patrick Weir and Thomas Johansson) as bit players to Meow Meow and Breen’s escapades, while wonderful in their dancing and delivering good performances, never seem adequately utilized enough to justify having them in the show.

The only few moments that work and connect with the audience are those where Meow Meow is left alone onstage to simply sing – in these moments, she is tender, heart-breaking and most importantly real. In the finale where Meow Meow sings about the troubles of modern times, a line about ‘building a wall’ around her heart becomes an uncomfortably contemporary parallel to the path of current politics.

Tis Pity feels like it needs re-structuring and reconsideration of its overall message before it can truly work as a theatrical piece, but having a star such as Meow Meow back on our stage is a delight worth savouring.

Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, 31 Sturt St, Southbank

Dates: 4 – 8 February

Times: 7:30pm

Tickets: $118 – $30

Bookings: melbournerecital.com.au, (03) 9699 3333

Image by Karl Giant

Victorian Opera’s LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR

Blood, tears and glorious music

By Bradley Storer

Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti’s classic bel canto tragedy made famous by our Dame Joan Sutherland, is brought to the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre by Victorian Opera, this star-vehicle appropriately lead by international star Jessica Pratt in the title role of Lucia.

Victorian Opera 2016 - Lucia di Lammermoor © Jeff Busby.jpg

Despite Henry Bardon’s wonderfully atmospheric and decrepit set (whose variations remain a highlight throughout the evening), the opening scene was very statically and somewhat muddily directed. The male chorus lacked strong direction or intention, but held together under the performances of José Carbó as Enrico Ashton and Jud Arthur as Raimondo. Lucia’s entrance in the next scene, amongst a well-timed eerie burst of onstage fog, was more effectively staged, drawing gasps from the audience.

Pratt is clearly comfortable and confident in the role of Lucia, capably navigating the dramatic arc of Lucia’s journey from innocent love-struck girl to her doomed fate, with a sweet and agile soprano that even in the harsh acoustics of Her Majesty’s could be heard in every corner of the theatre. Her acting choices can be a little odd at times – Pratt beams intermittently through her first aria, the ghostly and ill-omened ‘Regnava Nel Silenzio’, which is a little at ends with the dramatic situation (but feels more appropriate in the following cabaletta ‘Quando Rapito’). At times she can feel a little too controlled, never relaxing fully into the role until the famous and vocally-Olympian mad scene, ‘Il Dolce Suono’, where her soft but intense singing touches the heart even as her coloratura thrills.

Carlos E. Bárcenas as her lover Edgardo has a magnificent tenor voice, at points taking notes higher than even the score indicates to astounding effect. Dramatically though he seems lost, never entirely confident in the role and lacking connection and chemistry with Pratt, which means the last scene depicting Edgardo’s suicide tends to drag.

Carbó manages to find every colouring in the desperate Enrico, abusive to his sister one moment then conciliatory and pleading the next, and his scenes with Pratt are quite possibly the dramatic highlight of the show. Arthur as the priest Raimondo is an authoritative presence, and he received massive applause on opening night. Richard Mills draws out a wonderful performance from the Victorian Opera orchestra, as well as the onstage chorus who are impeccable vocally.

Overall, a worthy re-visiting of the classic opera with a commanding lead star at its centre – a worthwhile night at the opera for any theatre-lover!

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre

Dates: Tuesday April 12th, Thursday 14th, Saturday 16th, Tuesday 19th, Thursday 21st

Time: 7:30pm

Booking: www.ticketek.com.au

Image by Jeff Busby

REVIEW: Victorian Opera Presents REMEMBRANCE

How do you choose to remember?

By Deborah Langley

It’s a cold night in Melbourne and I must admit I’m feeling quite nostalgic. It’s been a hard week for me, the week I said goodbye to my grandmother, of funerals and sadness, of tears and regret. So it was with a heavy heart that I went along to the Victorian Opera’s Remembrance at the Arts Centre’s Hamer Hall.

Victorian Opera 2015 - Remembrance © Charlie Kinross

On this the centenary year of the ANZAC landing in Gallipoli, I was ready to remember: to shed a tear for the wasted youth and reminisce of times gone by, of what could have been and what we have lost.

With stories, songs and images we were given an historical and musical account of Australia’s involvement in World War 1. From the time of enlistment in 1914, with diggers leaving us and training in Egypt, through to landing in Gallipoli, the Somme and the Western Front and finally the homecoming of some of our luckier diggers. Remembrance gives a respectful reimagining, complete with authentic wartime ditties, but unfortunately this ultimately did not feel a truly heartfelt tribute.

Written and directed by award-winning Australian author Rodney Hall, and composed and conducted by acclaimed artistic director Richard Mills, Remembrance stars one of Australia’s best-known operatic tenors David Hobson, along with eight of Victorian Opera’s talented young artists.

Elizabeth Lewis is a standout in the ensemble, embodying characters both vocally and physically, while Michael Petruccelli and Nathan Lay give equally memorable performances as diggers throughout the war as the cast create a series of moving musical portraits against the backdrop of archival footage.

Accompanied by an impressive chamber orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, and a large rousing community choir, Remembrance does offer a glimpse into what life might have been like during World War 1: something we should all continue to remember.

Victorian Opera’s Remembrance was performed at Hamer Hall on August 13 2015, before touring:

Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo
15 August 2015, 7:00pm

The Cube, Wodonga
31 August 2015, 10:30am & 7:30pm

West Gippsland Arts Centre, Warragul
3 September 2015, 8:00pm

Eastbank Centre, Shepparton
12 September 2015, 7:30pm

http://www.victorianopera.com.au/what-s-on/remembrance/#TabDatesTickets

REVIEW: Victorian Opera and Monash University Presents GAMES OF LOVE AND CHANCE

Enamored  with opera anew

By Narelle Wood

Games of Love and Chance was a smorgasbord of operatic music ranging from classical operas such as Carmen and The Magic Flute to the more recent operas of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and Blitzstein’s Regina. The pieces selected offered a vast array of emotional journeys, from love lost to love regained, as well as love’s fortune foretold.

Games of Love and Chance

The almost eighty-piece orchestra, consisting of students from the Monash Academy Orchestra and several guest musicians, showcased the immense wealth of upcoming musical talent, performing Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg Prelude to Act Three from Tristan and Isolde with seemingly professional ease.

If it was difficult to believe the age of the musicians in the orchestra, it was even harder to believe that many of the young operatic artists had never performed with an orchestra before. Of this group of up-and-coming opera stars, it was Matthew Tng and Kate Amos that provided some of the stand-out performances; it was not just the clarity of their voices and their range but the embodiment of their characters, especially with the lack of context normally provided by costumes, sets and props.

Normally I’m captivated by watching the performers or the mesmerising rhythm of the violin bows, but during this performance I was just as fascinated by the conducting style and instant rapport with the audience of Richard Mills, the Maestro and Artistic Director at Victorian Opera. His passion for music, developing new talent and preserving our cultural heritage was clearly evident not only in the way he spoke during the introduction of each piece, but also in every flourish of his baton.

A highlight of the evening was the outstanding vocal soloists, many of whom are icons of the Australian operatic scene; among my favourites were Douglas McNicol, Jeremy Kleeman and the phenomenal performance of Lisa Gasteen.

While opera may not be everybody’s cup of tea, the collaboration between Monash Academy Orchestra and Victoria Opera provides a perfect opportunity to experience this great art form for both the opera novice and aficionada alike.

This performance took place at Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University, Clayton on March 29, 2014. Visit artsonline.monash.edu.au/mapa/events for upcoming events.