Death by Soprano

Adelaide Fringe. The Prometheum. 25 Feb 2013

Scottish poet Robert Burns is credited with saying “Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings” and Death by Soprano is a quirky show that explores that very point.

With the aid of a flip chart, a miscellany of props and costumes and a talented pianist, soprano Isabel Hertaeg sings us through an A to Z of the ways that soprano heroines (or villains) meet their various ends in the world of opera:  death by Avalanche; death by (poisoned) Bread; death by Consumption; and the list goes on.

It is a curious show, but it doesn’t know what it wants to be:  is it a recital, or is it a musical comedy that is taking the mickey out of opera.  Whatever it is, it desperately needs some expert direction, and if it has already had it, then it needs some more.  Amy Abler’s piano accompaniment is secure, and dramatic at times – especially towards the end of the program when Wagner gets an airing – and Hertaeg’s voice is pleasing for the most part, but the patter that is needed to hold the whole concept together just doesn’t quite cut it.  Hertaeg seems insecure with it at times, and the flip chart is often an encumbrance.  For example, her rendition of the touching aria Tu, Tu Piccolo Iddio from Madame Butterfly, which is sung by Cio Cio San to her child just before she commits ritual suicide, was positively spoiled by reaching mid phrase to flip the flip chart!  If it was intended to be funny, then it failed.  If it was intended to distract, then it succeeded.  It just didn’t fit, and there were many other examples.

However, there is a certain sincerity in what Hertaeg does.  She clearly enjoys doing what she does, and her voice easily managed many of the quite difficult arias.  Interestingly I initially thought that she was at her best in the middle register, but towards the end of the program when she opened her throat fully and sang arias from Puccini’s Suor Angelica and Wagner’s Die Walküre, it was quite evident that Hertaeg has an impressive range and considerable power.

The show ends fabulously.  Hertaeg reaches for her final prop, which is a mattress, sings the final aria from Puccini’s Tosca in which the heroine Tosca commits suicide by hurling herself from the catle wall, and then collapses onto the mattress.  The applause is protracted and we discover that Hertaeg is …..dead!!

This show is a bit of nonsense.  Lovers of opera will probably not enjoy it.

Kym Clayton

When: 24, 25 Feb and 9 Mar
Where: The Promethian