Archive for February, 2013

Kanen Breen wears a dress, yet again

February 23, 2013

Last night with D to Opera Australia’s production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Oceans of ink have been spilt on this opera and its quicksilver style.

As with its Shakespeare source, the plot (in Boito’s version sketched to the bare minimum) is just an excuse to bring a beloved character to the stage.

There are almost no set-piece arias and the action and dialogue are fast-paced and full of good bits from Shakespeare. Maybe that’s why there were more empty seats down at the surtitle-foreshortened front than is usually the case.

I have seen this production on, I think, all of its Sydney outings (1996, 1999 with Bryn Terfel very memorably as the big bloke, 2006). The set in the first two acts and the first scene of the last act is terrific. I still don’t think the last scene really works. The revolving set which serves for the Windsor locales slides to the back of the stage and yields to a box of verdant flats for Windsor forest. There is fog and a bit of snow falling. On a finicky note, just that afternoon Sir John was drinking in the sun, albeit with a few conceivably autumnal leaves dropping. How can the weather have come to snow so quickly? That’s just an attempt to fill the empty stage, I expect. The stage also feels too bright.

As Peter McCallum says in his latest review, this empty stage puts a big burden on the singers and, I would add, on the music – particularly when (because the chorus, as fairies and devils, are constrained by walking on their knees) the movement is also rather limited. When Falstaff responded “Oi, Oi Oi” to the various pinching and poking torments it all seemed just a bit lame and limp. I knew I was meant to be amused. Before that, John Longmuir sang Fenton’s aria well enough, but Lorina Gore’s number as Nanetta impersonating the queen of the fairies just didn’t quite get there – not just because of her but because of a bit of orchestral scrappiness. Magic, even pretend magic, can be tricky.

The title role was a great achievement for Warwick Fyfe. He has his own comic style.

Afterwards, I remarked to D that it was a pretty silly opera. D demurred. All Western operas, he thinks, are silly (he thinks Chinese operas are serious; sometimes too serious).

The assumption embedded in my remark was that tragic operas are not “silly.” I think what D had particularly in mind was the “fat lady sings” aspect of most Western operas – that is their manner of presentation, rather than, so much, their plots and any message that these carry.

To paraphrase the final fugue, it’s a joke. Isn’t that enough? In fact, I think there is a bit of a take-away message, and the key word is resilience. It’s true that when Falstaff dries himself out under the sun, a drink helps to restore him to that trilling feeling, but you know he’d get there anyway even without a drink, or at least you hope he will. That’s his charm.

And as Bardolfo, Kanen Breen got to wear a dress, yet again.

Sign of life

February 13, 2013



On the floor of our car. A blurrier image below. Presumably there are some moisture issues there.


Last dance

February 12, 2013

Tonight to the final performance in Sydney of Opera Australia’s production of A Masked Ball.

Perhaps four times was more than necessary.  Literally, even once must be more than necessary, I know.  What I mean is that though I enjoyed it, perhaps my appreciation had already peaked.  In the first half, when I was a bit further back than I had previously been, I was acutely aware of the sad sound that manages to escape from the concrete pit.  The production had lost any shock value, even the thrills were mostly familiar and a certain degree of anorakish trainspottingness crept into my response.

In the first half, the conductor, Andrea Molino, had an odd, camera-like contraption strapped to his chest.  Will Cinemalive include some conductor-cam?  Maybe he had it for the second half but if so I didn’t notice it (I confess: I had moved.)

In the second half there was a bit of an outburst from somebody in the rear stalls.  It seemed to be a complaint that people or a person couldn’t wait.  I think probably he was remonstrating against the applause at the end of the slow part of Gustavo’s scene.  It sounds like it is over, and so the audience applauds.  In fact, there is a little bit more to come after the interruption of the offstage ball music, including the true big finish to the scene.  This was thereby deprived its proper response (though this in turn might be difficult to interpolate as it leads straight to the ball music).

I think the man was right in his view that the applause was premature, if that was in fact his view.  It’s a closer call as to whether it was worth a vocal protest.  I looked back and saw an usher heading up to his row in a precautionary way, though he sounded quite reasonable, if impassioned.  I do not think there was any reason to think any disruption would continue.

The applause at the end was particularly warm for Jose Carbo.  Of course he’s the local boy of the main four principals, but I like to think that this was in recognition of how he has developed and, indeed, grown into the role over the run.  I count this as a particular achievement on his part.


Rereading this it seems a little more downbeat than it deserves. I most certainly did enjoy the fourth performance. Maybe this post reflects a kind of law of diminishing returns – it’s hard for an upward trajectory to persist. One thing for sure is that plenty of the music is still rattling around inside my head and coming unbidden to the surface.

Ballo 3

February 5, 2013

Tonight to Opera Australia’s production of Masked Ball for the third time.

The performance was being “captured” for Cinema Live. There were three cameras up in the middle about row G or H of the stalls (where the company bigwigs usually sit), another on the eastern end of row D, and an enormous cantilevered boom coming out of the front of Loge A, swinging right over the stage. This was surprisingly unobtrusive and even congruent with the Orwellian theme, but I think it may have made the audience rather self-conscious.  Especially in the first half, a number of moments which might have elicited applause (and did so last time) passed in silence.  Maybe it’s a Tuesday thing.

There may even have been other cameras which I have missed in this account.

Someone once told me that the first generation of live video recordings of the opera, starting in about 1983, were made possible by the ABC’s acquisition of compact video cameras for the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games. These cameras didn’t seem particularly compact.

Some things remained the same from the first two times: there were just too many words for Gustavo to keep up with the pace set by Andrea Molino for “Ogni cura si doni al diletto” (the number about all meeting at the fortune-teller’s at three which is obviously written to be a catchy “hit”).  On the other hand, Jose Carbo has burnished his tone to a darker hue, particularly just above the stave, where I had previously felt that an occasional lighter tone peeped through the Verdian veneer which he is in the process of acquiring.

One of my favourite bits in this opera is at the end of Act II: Amelia, Anckarstrom’s wife, has followed the fortune teller’s advice and come to gather a herb at midnight at the foot of the gallows beyond the city walls.  This, she hopes, will cure her of her guilty love for the king.  Unfortunately for this plan, the king has overheard the fortune-teller’s advice and come there also, and they have declared their love for each other (but not actually got up to anything else).

In the meantime, conspirators have somehow got wind that the king is there with a woman and are coming to attack him.  Anckarstrom comes to warn the king.  As the conspirators approach, the king slips away, but not before Anckarstrom promises to accompany Amelia (who is veiled) back to the city without lifting her veil.

The conspirators unveil Amelia, to Anckarstrom’s consternation.  What’s a fellow supposed to think?  In one of my favourite laughing choruses, the conspirators are grimly amused at Anckarstrom’s expense:  “See, our hero, on a “honeymoon” in the midnight under the gallows with his own wife.  What will the gossip be in the city when this news gets around!”  It’s a moment of multiple dramatic ironies.  The bit I like is not the first level sarcastic joke (why would a man need to have a secret tryst with his own wife? – or vice versa – and what a scandal not – save that the tryst was really with some other man) but the second-level one – maybe not quite part of the drama but one for the long-partnered: why would they want to?

At interval a couple of older women joined me at the table where I was standing partaking of my interval sandwiches.  That is, they were older than I.   Somehow, when we were discussing this scene, one of them said to me: “Do you remember the Bogle Chandler case?”  I think it was the nocturnal tryst aspect which brought it to mind, though the word she used was “cavort.”  I had to tell them that I was very young at the time.  (I was not yet three.)

New SSO co-concertmaster

February 1, 2013

News is recently out (here, currently in the news section, and here, pdf) that the SSO has appointed Andrew Haveron as co-concertmaster. He was here last May, and will start this May.

Haveron became joint concert-master of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London in 2012.  Obviously, he was out here trying out or testing the water pretty soon after that.

The news hasn’t exactly hit the broadsheets here but its announcement by Norman Lebrecht has led to an illuminating (or not) comment thread of speculation, ranging from  “Why did he?” (which given the early move from his previous position, seems a fair enough question to me, even if it is unlikely to be answered) to “How could he?”

On the SSO announcement one is invited to watch footage of Andrew performing with the Arensky Chamber Orchestra (rather than, say, the Philharmonia).

It might have been more fun if they had linked to here, albeit that it lacks any vision of Mr Haveron himself.

So when can we expect the vacant second principal cello position to be filled?