Posts Tagged ‘Sydney Opera House’

The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro), Opera Australia, Sydney Opera House, July 2010

31 July, 2010

The revival of this co-production with the Welsh National Opera was very much a team effort, with excellent singing all round. Teddy Tahu Rhodes was particularly good as a strongly voiced yet surprisingly vulnerable Figaro. So often this character comes over as all too knowing, never seriously fearing for the loss of Susanna’s love, but here he showed natural human frailty on this extraordinarily crazy day — indeed an earlier title for this Mozart opera was The Crazy Day. It’s one of his three great collaborations with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, who knowing he could not get away with Figaro’s rant against the aristocracy in the original play by Beaumarchais, replaces it with a rant against the perfidy of women. So it’s only natural that Figaro feels himself vulnerable. And with the Susanna of Taryn Fiebig, who sang with a lovely tone and charming air of spontaneity, the main couple was perfect.

The Countess and Count, photo by Branco Gaica

Peter Coleman-Wright as the Count was excellent, both vocally and in his passionate yet superficial desire for Susanna, while still apparently very attracted to the Countess. This was a Count of some complexity, and Rachelle Durkin portrayed a statuesque Countess, singing strongly, though with a little more vibrato than I care for. Half a head taller than Susanna, she managed to decrease her height admirably when they changed clothes in Act IV, and I only wish the designer Dale Ferguson had given her a decent wig, rather than a modern frizz of cultivated wild abandon. This was probably all part of the deliberately anachronistic touches, such as the flash camera, and one or two other things inserted into an eighteenth century environment, but the hair was frightful.

Kanen Breen’s very camp portrayal of Don Basilio was witty, though almost over the top, but that was evidently intentional, and Warwick Fyfe as Dr. Bartolo, with Jacqueline Dark as Marcelina, were rather touching, though his wig made him look absurd. Clifford Plumpton was wonderful as the gardener, entirely believable and not the irascible drunkard he sometimes appears, and Claire Lyon as his daughter Barbarina was gorgeous. The role of Cherubino is always a difficult one — a young woman pretending to be a young man who at one point dresses as a girl — but Sian Pendry’s movements were too girlish, though the costume, which showed her hips all too clearly, didn’t help. And I did think that exhibiting testosterone by banging the ironing board was over the top, though that was presumably the idea of director Neil Armfield, or associate director Roger Press.

The Count begs forgiveness at the end, photo by Branco Gaica

The main thing is that Patrick Summers did a fine job with the orchestra, keeping in touch with the singers while moving things forward at a good pace and bringing out the light and shade in the music.

Performances continue until 23 October, with cast and conductor changes starting in September — for more details click here.

La Fanciulla del West (Girl of the Golden West), Opera Australia, Sydney Opera House, July 2010

28 July, 2010

A good opera production eschews extraneous effects and irrelevant imagery, allowing the music and singing to convey the story directly to the audience, and this Nigel Jamieson production is a fine example.

The brief prelude shows black and white moving images of the wild west, on a screen at the rear of the stage. Then we find ourselves in a long tavern among men who are almost ghostly in their grey appearance, their make-up reminiscent of the early silent movies. Into this atmosphere of drinking and gambling after a day of gold mining, appears Minnie, the only colourful thing on stage. It’s a wonderful contrast — the warmth of the feisty heroine, joined later by the reformable bandit Dick Johnson, compared to the colourless nature of the sheriff who wants her for himself, along with the miners, all grateful to Minnie for her cheerful strength and companionship.

Johnson, Minnie and the Sheriff in Act II, photo by Branco Gaica

She was beautifully played by German soprano Anke Höppner, who gave a stirring performance in Act II and again at the end, after some edginess earlier, and Carlo Barricelli showed enthusiastic bravado and good top notes as Dick Johnson the bandit. John Wegner sang magnificently, portraying a darkly brooding presence as Jack Rance the sheriff, and the orchestra under the baton of Estonian conductor Arvo Volmer drove Puccini’s score forward with great lyricism. Musically this was a gripping performance, and while the opera is unusual among Puccini’s works in having no memorable arias, the emotion of its musical fabric came over very well.

Minnie in Act III with Johnson in the background, photo by Branco Gaica

This new production is extremely welcome in the opera’s anniversary year, particularly since Australia originally produced it just 18 months after its 1910 première in New York. And though the motif of Johnson’s redemption through Minnie’s love lacks the dramatic impact typical of Puccini — there are no deaths in this Western with its happy ending — Nigel Jamieson’s production is as good as it gets. Not only were the sets, costumes and lighting very effective — particularly the lighting by Phil Lethlean — I liked the visual designs by Scott Otto Anderson, and the allusions to the world of cinema, already widespread by the time Puccini wrote this opera. The black and white of the silent movie screen at the start reappeared in full colour just before the final curtain, saying ‘The End’.

Performances continue until August 6 — for more details click here.