State Opera of South Australia. Adelaide Town Hall. 30 Aug 2017
With the Festival Theatre being off-limits for (much needed) renovations, and for the lack of suitable venues to mount full main-stage operas, the State Opera of South Australia instead staged two one-act operas in (mostly) concert format in the pleasing acoustic of the Adelaide Town Hall.
It is a most enjoyable program, but it is definitely an evening of two halves.
La Vide Breve, with music by Manuel de Falla and Spanish libretto by Carlos Fernández-Shaw, is the story of an arranged marriage between Paco and Carmela, but Paco is in love with Salud, a common gypsy girl who despairingly takes her own life because she is denied Paco. The passion of the young lovers is made palpably evident through the beautifully played music and the well-sung arias, but the production lacks a true sense of theatre, and the gravitas of the plot is subjugated by the staging.
Director Nicholas Cannon, through necessity, staged the production largely in concert formation. The limited space of the wide and narrow thrust stage situated in front of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra accommodates the State Opera Chorus as well as the cast and various basic items of stage properties. The whole thing is cramped and lacks a sense of intimacy and seclusion that is often required. Pelham Andrews is a standout as Tio Saravor. His rich bass-baritone voice resonates throughout the auditorium and is never intimidated by the force of the orchestra, unlike Brenton Spiteri, whose excellent tenor voice is at times drowned out by what is essentially an over-powered orchestra.
The displays of flamenco dancing and singing provide interesting contrast. Gisele Blanchard sings a convincing Salud, and Elizabeth Campbell is deeply emotional as Abuela.
Gianni Schicchi is an altogether different proposition, and the evening suddenly takes off! Puccini’s score is emotive, lush, and contains the ever-popular aria O mio babbino caro. (One can sense the audience patiently waiting for it!) The Italian libretto by Giovacchino Forzano, is based in part on Dante's Divine Comedy and is fabulously comical. In short, it concerns the antics of a bunch of relatives who are over-excited about not receiving an inheritance and who conspire to fraudulently alter the will so that they do not miss out.
Director Douglas McNicol exploits every opportunity to extract laughter and his cast is completely up to the task; their acting skills are polished – facial gesturing in particular is exemplary. Elizabeth Campbell gives an object lesson in how to create a truly three-dimensional character that only comes through a deep understanding of one’s relationship with the other characters as well as the time, place and social milieu in which the action is located. It was difficult to take one’s eyes away from her.
McNicol chose to set the action into a contemporary setting, and it works well. Sadly, there are many examples where modernising a setting simply doesn’t work. For example, I recall without fondness Gale Edward’s attempt to give contemporary relevance to Salomé in her 2013 production for SOSA by setting it in a slaughterhouse. The quality of the music and the singing was overshadowed by an execrably bad design concept. This reviewer can’t help wonder what new heights of enjoyment might be achieved if the creatives, in their attempts to modernise, went that extra step further and judiciously altered the libretto as well to remove what ultimately become anachronisms if left unaltered. However……..
Desiree Frahn again demonstrates that she has a bright future as a singer, and her rendition of O mio babbino caro is just delightful: a crystal clear pitch-perfect voice, with no unnecessary vibrato. Brenton Spiteri is a delight as Rinuccio, and his sweet tenor line this time incisively cut through the combined might of the orchestra. Conductor Brian Castles-Onion also seems to have a more refined sympatico with the vocalists in Gianni Schicchi than in La Vide Breve, which helps. McNicol also stars in the title role, and his skills at farcical acting are well on display. Jeremy Tatchell sings and acts the role of Marco with his usual aplomb.
The strong principal casts are well rounded out by convincing performances from, David Cox, Daniel Goodburn, Norbert Hohl, Greg John, Rodney Kirk, Sara Lambert, Fiona McArdle, Rachel McCall, Joshua Rowe, and Beau Sandford.
SOSA’s next production will be Johann Strauss Jnr’s Die Fledermaus to be staged at her majesty’s Theatre on 24 & 25 Oct 2017.
When: 30 & 31 Aug
Where: Adelaide Town Hall