Tag: Victorian Opera

Victorian Opera Presents THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA

Clever, charming and tons of fun

By Leeor Adar

Squeals and giggles erupted from the audience of Victorian Opera’s The Princess and the Pea on Saturday afternoon. The audience is very young – the youngest I’ve seen for the Victorian Opera, and it fills me with gladness. The lingering question for opera remains as to how to attract future generations, and the Fables for Season 2017 is an operatic call to arms for Victoria’s smallest residents.

The Princess and the Pea.jpg

Hans Christian Andersen’s tale is reimagined under the clever guardianship of Victorian Opera’s developing artists Candice MacAllister (Design) and Alastair Clark (Direction). This colourful and vibrant production is short and sweet at only 40 minutes, and enough to ensure the little attendees don’t go stir crazy. Composed by the late Weimar Germany’s Austrian-born Ernst Toch, the singers clearly take pleasure in performing to their craft to such a young audience.

This production was a clever way to present the tale and the marvels of the opera to its young audience. Set as a show on television station, ‘Mythical Mysteries!’ the story is presented with the humour of forgotten lines, dropped scripts and the hustle and bustle of a television set. It’s slapstick and generally silly, but the appealing performances of the cast ensured that despite the German accents, the audience understood the action. MacAllister’s set and costume design was bright and artful, which consisted of a giant television frame that lifted the veil to behind the scenes.

The story follows as expected, with a desperately in love Prince (James Egglestone), a humbly dressed Princess (Olivia Cranwell), and a Queen (Kathryn Radcliffe) who has high hopes for her princely boy. Looks are deceiving, as the moral of the story drums into the chirpy youngsters, and a plan concocted by the crafty and energetic TV Host (Dimity Shepherd) to plant a pea in the Princess’ mattress reveals the lost girl’s true identity… and they all lived happily after.

You can check out the Victorian Opera’s Fables 2017 season here: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/discover/seasons/victorian-opera-2017 which will showcase work that will entertain audiences of varying age groups.

Image by Charlie Kinross

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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

Victorian Opera and Circus Oz Presents LAUGHTER AND TEARS

Brave ascent into arias and airy new ground

By Leeor Adar

It is a wonderful idea in theory to create an amalgamation of opera and circus in production. Both disciplines embody the drama of the human condition, whether through the astonishing highs of an operatic voice to the deep dive taken by the circus performer.

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Victorian Opera and the State Opera of South Australia merge here with Circus Oz to bring to life Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. The production begins in humour as one of our characters throws open the curtains and insists on joining the wonderful Orchestra Victoria under concertmaster Roger Jonsson. It’s a clever breakage of the fourth wall, and a nod at the fact we are watching a play within a play, which becomes of greater importance as we move towards Act II.

The dress rehearsal of a Commedia dell’Arte pantomime is slapstick in true tradition, with Circus Oz performers Kate Fryer, Geoffrey Dunstan, D J Garner and Luke Taylor as stage hands, essentially stealing the show from the main action of the dress rehearsal. The stage hands are so effortless in their expression, humour and movement that we as an audience implicitly trust them to flip their bodies and hang off ladders without batting an eye. Unfortunately, Act I is bordering on dull, and when the curtains closed at interval, it was difficult to fathom where Laughter and Tears would take us.

Act II is a very different turn from Act I, undoubtedly as we’ve moved on from the slapstick and now entered the Tears. Tonio, performed with brooding viciousness by the talented baritone James Clayton, is the prologue to the Tears, reminding us that the customs of Commedia are over, and we are now going to witness passion, blood and flesh in Act II.

Enter Pagliacci.

Disappointingly, the amalgamation of circus and opera does not work well here. There is one exception, and it is occurs when Nedda (soprano Elvira Fatykhova) describes the freedom of birds in nature as Geoffrey Dunstan leaps upon ropes, ever-escalating in height, inspiring awe and heightened pulse rates amongst the audience. This is the amalgamation I was seeking. It was the beauty of Fatykhova’s voice soaring as the body of the performer flung itself into careless abandon. It was breathtaking and brief. Circus Oz took a backseat to the drama of Pagliacci from here on, and it will be worthwhile to utilise their skill in more astonishing ways in future exercises.

It is wonderful to see the famous tenor aria, Vesti La Giubba, performed live by such a talented tenor as Rosario La Spina. As Canio (La Spina) breaks down during this performance, the heart simply stops. The warmth and pathos of his voice is heartbreaking. I was very moved, and in that moment Tears delivered. La Spina’s shaking rage and vulnerability prior to slaying his wife and her lover showcased La Spina’s marvellous talent as a performer.

To see the death-defying leap of bird-song, and the leap of faith taken by Victorian Opera and Circus Oz, you can see Laughter and Tears on Tuesday 16, and Thursday 18 of August at 7:30pm, at The Palais Theatre: http://www.victorianopera.com.au/what-s-on/season-2016/laughter-and-tears/

Image by Jeff Busby

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

Victorian Opera presents BANQUET OF SECRETS

Melodramatic Moments

By Margaret Wieringa

We all have them – those friends from our past that we see rarely, perhaps catch up with once in a while for a drunken dinner and then go our separate ways. Now, there’s an opera about them! This group of four uni friends meet yearly for a meal at one of their old uni haunts, but this year there is a challenge – each must tell a secret from their past, something no-one else knows.

Victorian Opera 2016 - Banquet of Secrets © Jeff Busby (6)

This show took me across the spectrum of enjoyment – parts of it I severely disliked and others I thoroughly enjoyed. What a challenge! I liked the concept; a group of friends forced to really reach deep and reveal their darkness. But I struggled to really buy it. Whether it was that they went very deep very quickly, or perhaps it was that after the big reveals, there was only a tiny acknowledgement that the other characters had a response before they seemed to be acting like everything was just dandy. It didn’t feel… honest. I know opera is over the top and the concept of huge revelations allowed for some melodrama, but the whole concept begged honest responses, not fleeting moments of truth.

The music was beautifulPaul Grabowski and the Banquet of Secrets band were onstage and their subtle presence was a contrast to the ever-changing images that played on a huge screen above the dinner table. The screen was another thing I both enjoyed and disliked – it worked well for images of the mouth-watering food (don’t miss the magnificently absurd menu in the program) – yet some of the other images that crossed it were twee and annoying.

Despite my criticism of the character responses earlier, I felt that the cast generally worked very well. I felt that the characters were quite insufferable with their self-aware mocking and clichéd comments, but I felt they were quite relatable. For me, while it was a strong ensemble performance, Antoinette Halloran outshone as Mia. Her powerful voice captured the strength and confidence of the character, yet was easily able to bring the audience on the emotional journey of Mia as she relieved the past, and reflected on the consequence of her actions. And the comic turn of Michael Carman as the waiter cannot be ignored – thanks to librettist Steve Vizard for throwing a wink to the great clowning characters of the past.

If you like opera, and you want to see something a bit different, go. But make sure you’ve eaten first – you don’t want your stomach rumbling heard over the music!

Where: Arts Centre Playhouse

When: March 1-5, 7:30pm (1pm matinee on Saturday)

Tickets: $40 – $120, depending on seating.

Bookings: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/opera/banquet-of-secrets or call 1300 822 849

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