A SIGHT AND SOUND TO BEHOLD
By Johann Strauss
Directed by Linda Kitchen
Music Director Rosemary Barnes
at Opera Factory, 7 Eden Street Newmarket, Auckland
From 11 Dec 2012 to 15 Dec 2012
Reviewed by Penny Dodd, 12 Dec 2012
The word “sparkle” came quickly to mind as the opening night audience settled in to the first act of Johann Strauss's famous operetta, premiered in Vienna in 1874. This production glitters and glows as it delivers a fast paced, thoroughly enjoyable evening of delightful nineteenth century musical entertainment.
The indefatigable Rosie Barnes at the piano rips through the overture in spirited fashion, the lights dim on the gorgeous box set complete with chaise lounge, candelabra, and potted plants, and the fun and games begin.
The plot is complicated, but not so complicated you can't follow it thanks to Linda Kitchen's clear direction. And it is performed in English. The characters are delicious and larger than life, encouraged in their antics by subtle bits of updating in the script, and a lively physical style of acting.
We have the feisty maid Adele, performed by Ella Smith on this occasion, (alternating with Elizabeth Mandeno). Her “Mein Herr Marquis” was a pure delight, so very enjoyable in the context of the story. Emma Sloman (alternating with Milla Dickens) gives us a Rosalinda who should know better, but goes along with the game to deliver a fabulous mock-Hungarian Czardas in Act 2.
Alfred, a tenor – Cameron Barclay – amuses greatly with his suitably excessive tenor temperament, and a fun game of ‘spot the operatic reference' (Verdi, Puccini, etc) as he swooped and swooned through the piece. He did seem to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging from the window sill; I was somewhat distracted throughout the scene wondering if Eisenstein would discover him.
Eisenstein is played and sung with much aplomb by Aidan Gill. He has a certain cavalier quality of the prankster getting his just – or perhaps unjust – rewards. This is a decadent society, where the trivial pursuits of the ruling classes become the imperatives. And what better example of this than the dubious, ambiguous, dark and dangerous Prince Orlovsky, finely characterised by Christie Cook (alternating with Elisabeth Harris).
Orlovsky is bored, Orlovsky throws parties and needs to be entertained by the manipulation of the people around him/her. Christie has a most commanding voice, and the carriage of a person who is accustomed to power. The lighting for ‘Chacun a Son Gout', (Phil Dexter) with dense colours and heightened shadows seemed to reflect this. (So I was a little puzzled when the same lighting state was used in subsequent scenes.)
The story rests on Dr Falke who, having been pranked by Eisenstein, was abandoned on a park bench after a riotous night out, dressed in a bat costume. Hence “The revenge of the bat”. Falke gets his own back on Eisenstein, but it's not quite that simple, and it involves mistaken identities, changes of splendid clothes and lashings of sparkling champagne.
Dr Falke, admirably played by Adam Thompson, is a vital part of the storytelling, as is Frank the Prison Warden, played by Dragan Atanasov.
The chorus looks beautiful and sings with lovely clarity and style.
Congratulations to the costume team for their miraculous work, a full company of twenty odd in the small space of the Opera Factory is a sight and sound to behold. Rosemary Barnes on piano and synth accompanies with a fabulous variety of tone, and sensitivity to the singers, and great timing – comic and otherwise.
The evening, living up to its subtitle as a Christmas gala, is rounded off by a cast and audience rendition of three traditional Christmas carols. Opening night was attended by some particularly talented individuals, including a soprano contingent who supplied impressive descants. It was a most enjoyable experience, being part of a jolly good singalong with some of the finest voices in the city.
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