Posts Tagged ‘opera australia’

Star vehicle

March 17, 2018

Last night to the first night of Opera Australia’s production of Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

It’s an obscurity, written as a star vehicle for the famous bass, Chaliapin, and premiered at Monaco in 1910.  So I suppose it was bankrolled by the upper-class version of pokies money.

Unfortunately, on the first night it was a star vehicle without a star.  International big-name bass, Ferrucio Furlanetto, for whom this production was first mounted in San Diego, was indisposed.  He was replaced by Shane Lowrencev.  No disrespect intended to Mr L and the show must go on and it’s good he was there to fill the gap but there were big shoes to fill.

There was an enormous swathe of seats in the front circle – somewhere between a quarter and a third – which were empty.  Did these represent  the free list or production sponsors tipped off and staying away?

My least favourite opera company director, L Terracini, faced the front-of-curtain mike to make the announcement and give us a little pep-talk.  He’d spoken to Mr Lowrencev who was very excited; he (LT) was excited (maybe I’m paraphrasing a bit freely here); there’s some wonderful music, particularly in the second half.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of Acts I to III which made up the first half.

At interval the mood was subdued.  “Nothing much happens” I heard one opera-aged lady say to her o-a-l companion.  Actually, a bit happened in Act III but it was oddly underwhelming as for no very obvious reason the leader of the bandits is moved by DonQ’s – well, what exactly – Christlike ridiculousness? (there is an organ banda part and fairly obvious crucifixion visual imagery although also some faintly Wagnerian-grailish stuff)  – to return Dulcinea’s necklace to him.  The chorus of bandits was far too small to be at all scary.  I’d be prepared to wager that they were really all noblemen who have gone wrong, except that they also seemed to have wandered out of Carmen.

Act IV was the first act which elicited genuinely warm applause. Massenet is a skilful theatrical writer and Act V also tugged heartstrings, if rather mildly.  I for one felt obliged to will an emotional response into being.

Because this is a rarity, I was already  going again, which is just as well.

 

Running knows

February 21, 2018

That’s a pun from PDQ Bach’s Iphigenia in Brooklyn.  There were plenty more like that, in spirit at least, in this evening’s performance by Opera Australia of Shostakovich’s The Nose.

Lots of colour and movement, but what does it all mean?

I liked the prefiguration of the comedic cops of Lady Macbeth of Mtensk and the pastiche of a church scene.  It was hard to judge some of the rest from my right front point eyrie, especially in light of the electronic acoustic enhancement which bathed much ever so gently in a reverberant glow. The orchestration is probably too grotesque  to provide an opportunity to  judge the enhancement but as a pianist I found the piano sound disconcerting..

If this wasn’t by Shostakovich and recently done by Barrie K, I’m not sure we would be seeing it.  It is early Dmitri. For once Mr Molino did not conduct from memory.

Still it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I will be going again at a left point before sitting downstairs in the middle.  The spectacle is  exuberant and diverting.  There is an enormous cast. The much-touted tap-dancing noses scene is far from being the highlight of the show.

King Roger

January 29, 2017

Last night to Opera Australia’s production of this work by Szymanowski.  It’s an obscurity: the recording that I was able to borrow from the Con library was made in Warsaw in 1965 – I suspect in association with a concert performance rather than a staged performance.

The opera is set in Sicily at the time of the Norman King Roger.  The libretto contains very detailed stage directions for first a Byzantine church, secondly the King’s palace and thirdly an ancient Greek amphitheatre by the sea: it is clear that Szymanowski was inspired by specific locales experienced by him when chasing the sun and (presumably) a Sicilian lad or two.  This production ditches all that and instead makes plain that the action is pretty much all inside the protagonist’s head: a massive head (front exterior view, then rear internal view) and, for the third act, a stylised “amphitheatre” which seems more like the Coliseum turned inside out than any Greek model.

That means that the music carries the exoticist burden.  It’s meant to be in three different flavours – almost one for each act, but once the orchestra started playing (everything starts in the dark with some gong strokes and a quasi-Orthodox church choir) I can’t say that the differences struck me so much as a tremendous kind of dream world.  It was rich stuff.  The text books talk about Scriabin and Stravinsky but mostly I felt reminiscences of Pelleas & M.  Orchestration is luscious and complicated – I spotted the double basses having a little confab at the end which suggests there are still some details to iron out.

Michael Honeyman was particularly impressive in the title role.

Bachtrack and Limelight carry the most comprehensive reviews (freedom from print means freedom from word limits) so I will leave the rest of the critical work to them. Good luck finding those $23 tickets Clive Paget talks of in the latter.

House was maybe 75%, with some conspicuous gaps in the expensive areas. Nevertheless, the sense of engrossment was palpable and applause at the end was enthusiastic.

I sat in a cheap seat on the side and will do so again before finishing off in the front row.  Perhaps by then I will be able to distinguish more between the parts and make more sense of the whole.

It’s something of a coup for OA to mount this production, though that statement must be qualified by the fact that the production has been bought in from Covent Garden, as was the double bill of Cav/Pag which I saw the night before.

At interval, sharing a table with someone who introduced herself as having sat behind me for the last few years at the SSO “Emirates” series, I learnt that about a third of the OA staff were made redundant towards the end of last year – she had a niece who was affected. I guess there’s lots of people you don’t need when you are hardly putting on any operas (eg, in a year when the Opera Theatre went dark, it turns out that about half the time that OA had the Capitol Theatre is being turned over to a final run of My Fair Lady) and most of what you are putting on is either a revival or a “co-production.” Neither of us was enthused by the recent news that Lyndon Terracini’s contract has just been extended for another 3 years.