Double dose delights [by Sharu Delilkan]
You can’t go wrong with two for the price of one.
But when both the products are not just great value but great quality, you know you’ve struck gold.
In this case watching two separate but cleverly intertwined operas, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci more commonly referred to as Cav/Pag, is not just value for money but a great night filled with drama and intrigue. A show definitely worth traipsing into town for, even amidst all the Rugby World Cup malarkey.
So I think by now you would have gathered that I really enjoyed the latest production of the NBR New Zealand Opera.
Xerxes ‘Handel-ed’ at its best
[by Sharu Delilkan]
King Xerxes could well be likened to an 18th-century Mr Bean, with a cruel streak.
Australian-born counter tenor Tobias Cole, who plays the lead has a crystal clear voice that’s juxtaposed against his ‘Mr Bean-like’ dramatic facial expressions.
Before I proceed I must admit this is my first experience of Xerxes – not surprising since this is the first time the opera is being performed in New Zealand.
I was pleasantly surprised that unlike the tragic flavour of most operas, it was uplifting with a happy ending – a perfect match with the Auckland Arts Festival.
The NBR New Zealand Opera should be applauded for bringing an opera of this nature to audiences, particularly in light of recent trying times. What a great way to start the year – well done NZ Opera!
And the vibrant costumes with Trelise Cooper’s trademark style was equally elevating keeping everyonemesmerised, including spouses that had obviously been dragged to the show by their missus.
To quote General Director of NZ Opera, Aidan Lang “There’s a real theatricality to Trelise’s fashion collections.”
Cooper’s choice of hand-woven fabrics, with exquisitely ornate embroidery sourced directly from India, was spot on. What colours didn’t she use? You might ask. Such a change to see the whole colour palette utilized. This includes Romilda’s (Tiffany Speight) bright pink almost fuchsia cape, Atalanta’s (Amy Wilkinson) jade green dress with the plunging neckline and high slit, Xerxes regal purple and Romilda’s gold embroidered wedding cape – to mention a few.
Verryt’s light touch and restrained minimalist approachto set design is the perfect complement and ideal setting for Cooper’s no-holes-barred opulent creations. And Matt Scott’s ever-changing lighting hues skillfully depict the opera’s emotions while enhancing the stunning costumes.
If you’re not a regular operagoer, this Italian opera with English surtitles is the perfect place to start. Its simple storyline and magnificent costumes are sufficient to draw you in and keep you thoroughly entertained.
The icing on the cake is of course Georg Friedrich Händel’s composition played in authentic Baroque style by the internationally acclaimed Lautten Compagney from Berlin, a group of Baroque musicians who have come to New Zealand especially to accompany Xerxes. Led by Wolfgang Katschner, the music is incredibly intuitive and spine tingling.And the decision not to compromise, using instruments like the theorbo (a lute that sounds like the harpsichord), the Baroque oboe, and violin has definitely paid off. It’s a special treat to listen to Händel’s opera the way he originally intended.
Besides Cole’s exquisite vocals, Englishman William Purefoy (Xerxes’ brother Arsamene) is also a stand out counter tenor.
Again unlike most operas, where the bass is the male authority figure, it was refreshing for counter tenors to take their place singing with such purity of voice. At one stage I closed my eyes to block out any distraction and it took me back to when I saw the Viennese Boys’ Choir.
Australian soprano Speight, who’s won many accolades for her portrayal of Musetta in 2008’s La bohème, was the perfect Romilda. Not only was she pitch perfect she also has a regal air befitting a potential queen.
Seeing mezzo soprano Kristen Darragh (Amastre) dressed in men’s ‘swashbuckling’ clothes was a 360 degree turn from her strutting her stuff in a tight mini and fishnets as Zulma in The Italian Girl in Algiers (2009).
Once again in keeping with the high-spirited opera, the show is riddled with humourous moments. The most memorable being bass Stephen Bennett (Elviro) dressed in drag where he wears one sock up and another one down adding to the comic relief.
My only criticism would be that the first half could have been about 10 minutes shorter as it dragged just a little, probably because the movement on stage was a tad static.
However the second part is anything but. The farcical confusion in the vein of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing gives the audience many opportunities to giggle. A highlight is Martin Snell’s (Ariodate) dancing across the stage with impeccable agility, which catches you by surprise considering his otherwise regimented character as leader of Xerxes's army.
Definitely a must see, especially if you’ve been teetering on wanting to experience opera and have never had the courage. I guarantee a highly entertaining evening with amazing voices to boot!
NBR New Zealand Opera’s Xerxes plays as part of the Auckland Arts Festival at the Civic Theatre until March 6th.
More information at the Auckland Arts Festival 2011
Rocky Horror Opera Show
[by Sharu Delilkan]
The poster of Opéra Risqué, definitely promised naughtily attired girls singing opera in Moulin Rouge style lingerie. And the diverse crowd waiting outside at 5.30 pm were obviously anticipating a mischievous evening.
The trepidation was heightened by the sight of scantily clad women appearing and disappearing at the box office like fleeting flights of fantasy, although it would have been great to continue the ‘risqué’ experience - the bar staff could be dressed in character too, and the crowds could have been let in early to get ‘well-oiled’ at the bar to prepare for a scandalous evening.
The curtains cloaking the room of cabaret-style seating gave the audience members a suitable sense of excitement when we walked into Galatos’ main theatre.
The cabaret-style tables plus the dimly light room, complemented by pink lighting on stage and blue spotlights, were extremely tantilising. The red tea lights and rosebuds on the equally scarlet tablecloths provided a proper ‘Roxanne-sque’ touch to the decor.
A possible missed opportunity was the empty bandstand stage right, which could have been filled by musicians jamming in full flow to make you feel like you were walking into a nightclub, right off the bat. I’d like to think that these were first night organisational glitches, which were not evident in the performance on stage.
The audience was treated to a trip round the world of broken-hearted beauties from Argentina, France, Spain, lamenting, and sometimes even taking revenge upon lost, or betrayed love.
The set, lights and costumes created an appropriately inappropriate mood with pearls, diamonds, lace and fur; guns, knives, wigs, corsets; thighs, bras, legs, stocking, garters and even fleeting ‘almost’ nudity, completing a ‘Rocky Horror-esque’ visual feast in the intimate room.
One of the few men in the show is Tarver Graham, the show’s compère with a faux French accent, who sets the mood for each scene. He provides a good reprieve from the ‘bawdy’ women on stage however even a contrived storyline or a common thread would have been welcome, to give the musical performances a cohesive flow.
A clever device in the second half features Chris Bryan as the love sick stagehand pining after the unrequited love of Ale Ioan (femme fatale), set against the backdrop of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s Part of Your World, whilst exquisitely duplicating Ioan’s sensual peeling off of her lacey gloves to a tee.
In fact the audience seemed to show great appreciation seeing him adorned with pearls, diamonds and finally the diamond-studded tiara which he wears with poise, style and grace!
The choice of music was confusing at times with Madonna’s Like a Virgin, played towards the end of the show, seemingly chosen merely because of the word “virgin” in the title, almost threatening to dilute the ‘cabaret-esque’ temperament.
In my mind Jessie Cassin epitomizes what the audience hankers for in an ‘Opéra Risqué’. She is in her element emerging intoxicated from the crowd clutching a bottle of Bacardi, initially sculling from a shot glass and eventually swigging straight out of the bottle.
In keeping with the opera-risqué theme her drunken, self-piteous, self-destructive performance of Martha Wainright’s Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole is delivered with excellent vigour and attitude. And her stunning velvet red cocktail dress with diamond bodice showing off her curves, is the cherry on the cake.
In terms of ‘risqué-ness’ the show is generally more ‘coy’ than sleazy, more ‘coquettish’ than erotic. I for one was left lusting for more…
Opéra Risqué plays as part of the Auckland Fringe Festival at Galatos until March 4th.
More information at the Auckland Fringe Website.