Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Bell Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

A most intriguing production here's my thoughts for Sydney Arts Guide http://www.sydneyartsguide.com.au/the-winters-tale/ This can be called one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’ as it is full of both intense psychological drama yet also is lyrical, rustic and has a romantic happy ending. In some ways it is almost in effect two separate plays, with massive shifts in mood and tone. There is lots of doubling of roles by the excellent cast and fine ensemble work. It is all seen through the imagination of young Prince Mamillius (Otis Pavlovic or Rory Potter) who controls and manipulates everything. Mamillius acts as lynchpin, questioner and observer throughout. The ’nursery’ /fairytale set as designed by Stephen Curtis was light and airy with bunk bed with ladder, a cradle ,small child size stools, a wonderful mobile… Enchanting atmospheric lighting by Matthew Marshall was superb. So before the play even starts there is a strong message that we are entering a place of dreams and nightmares ,of memory and imaging and of ‘let’s pretend’ . Mamillius’ continued presence throughout as guiding spirit and magician signals this production’s intent: it wants us to suspend disbelief, leave behind the everyday, the logical and the rational and succumb to theatrical magic. As this is Shakespeare, cuteness, however does not really apply, particularly in this rather awkward at times play , with its combination of madness and lyrical/pastoral scenes , searing, intense emotions and joyous young love. Mamillius dies of a broken heart in Act1 ( in this version, reported off stage ) having seen his father Leontes, King of Sicily (Myles Pollard) insanely consumed by jealousy and obsessively believing that Queen Hermione (Helen Thomson) is pregnant by his friend Polixenes, king of Bohemia (Dorian Nkono). His courtiers and even the Delphic Oracle’s insistence on their innocence only strengthen his conviction and Leontes orders the faithful Camillo (Philip Dodd) to kill Polixenes. Instead, Camillo and Polixenes escape back to Bohemia while Leontes condemns Hermione to a dungeon. There she gives birth to a daughter – who is taken away and abandoned to die in the forest … Act2 sixteen years later sees the unknowing Princess Perdita who has been raised by a shepherd fall in love with Prince Florizel , son of Polixenes .Can they be united ? Lion-like , bearded Myles Pollard gives a splendid performance as the tormented Leontes. He is bitten and driven mad by jealousy and steadfastly refuses to listen to reason ( the pleading of his courtiers) in Act1. In Act2 he is full of remorse and repentance and won’t forgive himself. He handles the monologues and blustering terrifically and has a fine voice. He is also great in the comic role of the Old Shepherd who finds and raises Perdita. Helen Thomson as Hermoine , the wronged queen , was superb .In Act 1 she is still weak from giving birth to Perdita but bravely makes a stand and protests her innocence. In Act 2’s reconciliation scene she is exquisite and it is beautifully, movingly done. And as daft Mopsa she is delightful . Princess Perdita was enchantingly, exquisitely played by Liana Cornell, a fairytale princess indeed .She glowed and in the fancy dress party scene of Act 2 was appropriately dressed as an angel (Shades of Baz Luhrman’s R + J ? ) She is stunningly beautiful and a fine actress ,her character risking all for love. Handsome Prince Florizel was excellently played by Felix Jozeps .He impetuously ignores for love what they think are differences in class and status until all is put right at the end . Polixenes was tremendously played by Dorian Nkono .He is charming and eloquent with a honeyed mellifluous voice .Yet he can be startlingly regal and authoritative too as we see when he unexpectedly turns on Florizel. As Camillo, Philip Dodd has great fun in both acts and has much fun channeling his inner Sir Humphrey Appleby. Terry Serio as Antigonus (in Act 1) is terrific .He is loyal to Leontes yet it breaks his heart to have to abandon baby Perdita.(In this version the famous stage direction ‘ exit pursued by a bear’ is very effectively done with a toy teddy bear and great use of shadows.) In Act2 as Autolycus he has great fun hamming it up as the thieving, lying,singing trickster. Special mention must be made of the terrific performance by Michelle Doake as Paulina ( Act 1 ) /Dorcas (Act2 ) .In Act 1 she daringly stands up to Leontes and insists on Hermoine’s innocence , delivering a fiery, passionate version of the famous speech .As Dorcas in Act2 she leads everything towards the eventual happy ending . In conclusion , to paraphrase what one of my colleagues has said – ‘Although a sometimes mildly confusing production of an often perplexing , difficult play, this is however a fine rendition of one of Shakespeare’s relatively lesser-performed works, well worth seeing for both its curiosity value and the many excellent moments of high drama from this excellent cast.’ Running time 3 hours (approx) including interval THE WINTER’S TALE, Bell Shakespeare Company at the Playhouse Theatre, Sydney Opera House, 1-29 March 2014. For more about The Winter’s Tale by Bell Shakespeare, visit http://www.bellshakespeare.com.au

WSO Verdi Gala The Concourse Chatswood

this was fabulous the audience in raptures here's my thoughts for Sydney Arts Guide http://www.sydneyartsguide.com.au/willoughby-symphony-celebrates-verdi/ On a dismal, soggy, grey and wet afternoon we in the sold out audience were treated to a glorious concert by the Willoughby Symphony celebrating Verdi. Act 1 had excerpts mostly from ‘Rigoletto’ and Act 2 concentrated on ‘La Traviata’ with selections from ‘Aida, ’’Nabucco’ included in a thrilling concert. Nicholas Milton the conductor who introduced each piece was having a great time, and in a very playful mood, joking and teasing, bringing joy both to the orchestra and the delighted, enthusiastic audience. Milton’s conducting, watching the two star singers intently, was energetic and inspired and, at times, dramatic. The Willoughby Symphony Chorus was stirring in the ‘Anvil Chorus’ from ‘Il Trovatore’ ( with a xylophone not anvil) .The ‘ Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves ‘ from ‘Nabucco’ that brought Act 1 to a close gave one goosebumps. They also had fun as assorted soldiers (‘Il Trovatore’) and matadors (from ‘La Traviata’, here waving red handkerchiefs) in selected pieces. Both acts featured the marvellous singing of tenor Martin Buckingham and soprano Eva Kong .In Act 1 Buckingham was magnificent as the Duke in ‘Rigoletto’. He has a crackling , electric presence .His ‘La Donna e mobile’ was in effect performed in three-dimensional stereo, so to speak, as he moved around and through the audience, delivering an exuberant performance. In Act2 his aria as Oronte from ‘I Lombardi’ was breathtakingly sung and he was also in fine voice as Rodolfo from’ La Traviata’ in the duets. As Gilda from Rigoletto in Act1 Eva Kong wore her hair down and a floaty, delicate , pale blue gown. Her ‘Caro Nome’ was luscious , joyous and sunny, beautifully sung . As Violetta in Act 2 she wore her hair up and a stunning black evening gown. In her exuberant ‘Sempre Libre’, the famous major test piece for sopranos , she pulled out all the stops and brought the house down . With regards to the other duets from La Traviata ‘Un di felice, eterea’ from the beginning of the show was floating and ravishing and ‘Parigi o cara’ at the finale was very sad , poignant and moving. The penultimate item was the HUGE Triumphal March from ‘Aida’ stirringly performed – one could see the elephants and crowds in your imagination! There was a bright buoyant trumpet solo by Lars Mehan as part of this. And I mustn’t forget to mention that the Prelude to Act 1 of ‘ La Traviata’ with which the orchestra opened Act 2 was given a dynamic , dramatic performance beginning with haunting, fragile violins and then expanding to the huge lyrical swirling onrush of more strings and the dizzying whirling ominous undertones of the violins. The audience reaction was rapturous and due to public demand, as an encore, the final number was the well known Brindisi (drinking song) from ‘La Traviata’ with the audience joining in. Running time 2 hours 10 mins (approx) including interval The Willoughby Symphony ‘Night at the Opera Verdi Gala’ played at the Concourse 1 and 2 March 2014. Conducted by Nicholas Milton guest stars Eva Kong and Martin Buckingham.

Opera Australia Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin

This had a stupendous performance by Nicole Car here's my thoughts for Sydney Arts Guide http://www.sydneyartsguide.com.au/onegin/ This is a magnificent ,inspired production of Tchaikovsky’s lyrical 1879 opera based on Pushkin’s novel .It is a new co-production from London directed by Kasper Holten, the ROH’s new( ish ) director of Opera. Designers Mia Stensgaard (set) and Katrina Lindsay (costume) have conceptualised the production to feature three heavy ,imposing columns/doors which symbolically split the drama into the ’inner’ and’ outer’ worlds of the characters . The doors can be folded back /opened/closed /become a space for billowing curtains , the columns leant against despairingly or joyously. At one point Tatyana hides in a large bookcase which is part of this. Behind the doors are simple but very dramatically effective landscape projection that morph through the changing seasons. It is a non naturalistic , minimalist sometimes dreamlike production .Holten has decided to show us the whole opera in flashback, using two dancers to play the younger Onegin and Tatyana, observed at all times by their older, wiser selves. Generally this works quite well but can be a little off putting and distracting , As the opera develops , what turns out to be the scattered remains of painful memory gradually assemble on stage – a scrunched up letter, a sheaf of hay, a pile of well read books, a broken chair, and towards the end Lensky’s corpse. Musically, passionate Guillaume Tourniere is an excellent Tchaikovskian in the pit, very energetically leading the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra in this most Romantic of Russian scores from the opening expression of melancholy to its overwhelming passionate conclusion. The orchestra play with delight and strength, the big waltzes and the polonaise are performed with gusto and there are some enchanting horn and wind solos in the very poignant love scenes. The large, tightly controlled chorus are also in excellent form, producing a large, dynamic sound; and exquisitely disciplined in their stage work too. Olga , Tatyana’s sister was sweetly ,terrifically performed by Sian Pendry who sings gloriously . She is shown as far more ‘lively’ than Tatyana , more of a tomboy , cheerful ,energetic and into dancing etc. Yet she can be elegant and well behaved too when appropriate. She cannot resist Onegin – is it thoughtless of her to succumb to his attractions and dance so much with him at the ball , which leads to the fatal duel ? Young ,handsome poet Lensky engaged to Olga was splendidly sung by James Egglestone .He has a bright ,concentrated tone. Is he right to be jealous of Onegin when he flirts with Olga at the ball or does he build a mountain out of a molehill ? We feel pity with his insistence on honour and satisfaction for his wounded, shaky pride.His aria just before the duel , as if he has a premonition ‘Kuda, kuda vĂ¯ udalilis’ was superb , extremely moving . But as another of my colleagues has asked , after he has been shot in the duel ,why does he have to lie there for the rest of the show ? It can be quite distracting. This opera could perhaps be called ‘Tatyana’ rather than Onegin as she emerges as the dominant character and it is seen through her eyes, Nicole Carr as Tatyana is superb, absolutely brilliant and ravishing . She holds the stage and handles the long and very difficult famous ‘Letter aria’ scene , which is at the heart of the opera ,passionately and magnificently , stopping the show. She is thoughtful , studious and passionate simultaneously . Her crisp but rich soprano is easily ,evenly spread across the full range and always linked to her character She reveals clarity ,freshness and vivid colour combined with expressive immediacy. And I love the beautiful Renoir like white ruffled dress she wears. Onegin is portrayed by the Czech baritone Dalibor Jenis making his Opera Australia debut with flair. He has a strong dramatic and visual presence and musically his dark velvety baritone blends well with Car .His voice has a strong , polished sound, but there are undertones hinting at edginess and apathy simultaneously . He makes the dramatic transition from cold politeness to thunderstruck yearning lover plausible and exciting. Madame Larina , Tatyana and Olga’s mother , Mrs Bennett like seeking to marry her daughters off , was pertly played by Dominica Matthews .She is shown as brittle yet firm and possibly a drinker. Their loving nurse Filippyevna who comforts and looks after Tatayana and has a wonderful aria describing her youthful marriage was terrifically played and sung by Jacqueline Dark .Kanen Breen as Monsieur Triquet , an elegant , rather foppish French tutor was wonderful and performed his ‘party peice ‘ – the poem to Tatyana on her name day – with great panache. Uxorious Prince Gremin was magnificently sung by lion like Konstantin Gorny in an imposing uniform. His aria “All men surrender to Love’s power ‘ showcases his glorious , rumbling bass . It is interesting to observe that in this version he overhears his wife’s declaration of duty and love. An intelligent, very moving, visually pleasing and excellently sung production. Running time 3 hours 10 mins (approx) one interval EUGENE ONEGIN, Opera Australia in co-production with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and Fondazione Teatro Regio, Turin at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House; 29 February- 28 March 2014. For more about Opera Australia in Tchaikovsky’s Onegin, visit http://www.opera.org.au

Royal Ballet Giselle - Acosta/Osipova

This was amazing , Ospiova is incredible Here's my rave for Sydney Arts Guide http://www.sydneyartsguide.com.au/tag/royal-ballet/ Quick! Run! Book now if you haven’t already to catch this extraordinary screening of Natalia Osipova and Carlos Acosta in the Royal Ballet’s GISELLE which has just finished a sold out season at the Royal Opera House in London. Regarded as the epitome of Romantic ballet, GISELLE, created by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot in 1841, is the story of a village girl who loves but is betrayed by Count Albrecht, a nobleman in disguise . This is the very traditional Peter Wright version (he is interviewed and in the audience to watch it and brought on stage for curtain calls at the end) that has been around for about thirty years .Yet it feels amazingly vibrant and fresh. It is a clear and emotionally gripping performance .The sets and costumes in Act 1 are in autumnal russet colours, in Act 2 we see an eerie, misty, moonlit forest glade with Giselle’s grave marked by a rough cross. Under the dynamic baton of conductor Boris Gruzin, we see the orchestra who are terrific and play Adam’s lilting score eloquently. Former Bolshoi dancer Natalia Osipova who has just joined the Royal Ballet this season as Giselle is superb, playing this ‘Hamlet of the Ballet’, a very challenging test for ballerinas since its first performance. In Act1 Osipova convinces as the naive, delicate young peasant maiden in love with Albrecht. She is delicate and shy and her frail heart is emphasised. Yet she is bright and joyous at first and reassures anxious Berthe, her mother. In Act 2 she is like a moonbeam or gossamer. The opening flirting pas de deux for Giselle and Albrecht is glorious and her ‘mad scene’ is shattering. In both acts we admire her astonishing elevation and ballon. Her appearance and first whizzing solo in Act 2 is magnificent, – fast and yet also blurry like delicate mist. Simultaneously she has incredible control in her adagio and a beautiful ‘line’. She pleads for Albrecht’s life in Act2 with delicate despair. Continue reading → Boris GruzinCarlos AcostafeaturedGISELLENatalia OsipovaPalace Opera and Ballet SeasonPeter WrightRoyal BalletRoyal Opera House London