Sydney Opera House
Until 24th March 2012
Performance 6th March reviewed by Bill Stephens
Michael Lewis (Count Almaviva) Elvira Fatykhova (Countess Almaviva)
Artists of Opera Australia
For his first production for Opera Australia, director Benedict Andrews has come up with a cracker of a production. Working from a witty English translation by Jeremy Sams, the story-telling is clear, light-hearted and funny, completely in harmony with, and indeed illuminating, the gorgeous Mozart melodies.
Don't be put off that the production is played in a contemporary gated community setting. Ralph Myer's inventive set design and Alice Babidge's costumes are so in tune with Andrews’ concept, that everything seems completely logical. It’s is a concept that is a delight from the very first moment of the overture until the curtain comes down on the final glorious notes.
The opera opens in a stark white box relieved only by a rack on each side bearing pale green uniforms of the type seen in hospitals and factories. During the overture the chorus arrive singly or in groups, remove their street clothes and banter as they dress in the uniforms. Among them is Susanna, who has brought her wedding dress to show the girls, before they set off to undertake their duties.
Then the setting starts to move across the stage, revealing other rooms in the building, all of them white, until we come to the room allocated by the count for Susanna and Figaro to occupy once they are married. It appears to be a laundry, because it contains a large washing machine around which much of the hilarious early action takes place.
Keeping within the white box theme, Meyer's intriguing set design adapts endlessly to suit the action of the various scenes. Among them, a wedding banquet played out among tables dressed in long white tablecloths, gleaming wine glasses and floating silver balloons. This scene ends dramatically with the table-settings being gathered up in the tablecloths as the tables are folded, whizzed off the stage, and the white plastic chairs are formed into a large circle, upon which multi-coloured confetti flutters down throughout the following scene.
Taryn Fiebig (Susanna) with artists of Opera Australia.
Andrews' direction is continually fascinating and inventive, and he has a marvellous cast to work with, who really embrace the concept.
Joshua Bloom is a fine Figaro. Good looking, with an expressive face and a warm rich baritone voice, he's as equally at home with the comedy, as with the dramatic elements of the role. He’s delightfully teamed with the marvellous Taryn Fiebig, whom it seems, can do no wrong. As Susannah, she not only looked gorgeous, but also sang like a dream, acted intelligently, and most importantly, made the audience care about her character.
Joshua Bloom (Figaro) Taryn Fiebig (Susanna)
Having only seen Elvira Fatykhova as a heart-breaking Violetta in “La Traviata”, it was a revelation to see her as the Countess Almaviva in this production. Her superb singing of 'Hear My Prayer” at the beginning of the second act was breathtaking, and her duet with Fiebig, “Can you hear the gentle breezes ?” in Act Three, were among the evenings many vocal highlights. But her lightness of touch with the comedic possibilities of the role, was as unexpected as it was charming.
Michael Lewis is magnificent as Count Almaviva. In fine voice, mature, dignified, but always on the look-out for the opportunity for a little lechery on the side, his is a performance that is deliciously nuanced and totally riveting.
Jacqueline Dark and Conal Coad are marvellous together as Marcellina, the delightfully imposing housekeeper and Dr. Bartolo, complete with oxygen tank in tow, never missing an opportunity for visual and aural silliness, while Kanen Breen, as the music master Don Basilio, continues to delight as he adds yet another memorable characterisation to his already huge repertoire of outlandish characters.
At this performance Ann Yun stood in for an indisposed Dominica Mathews as the page Cherubino, and was so spectacularly successful in the role that at the end she was rewarded with well-deserved cheers from the appreciative audience.
Artists of Opera Australia
Conductor Simon Hewett insured an excellent balance between orchestra and stage, and seemed to be enjoying the proceeding as much as the audience. Choregrapher Lucy Guerin contributed delightfully funky movement for the wedding scene, in keeping with the mood of the production.
This is a production which works so successfully on all levels, and is so jam-packed with brilliant ideas and performances, that one can hardly wait for a second viewing. Make sure you see it at least once.
Joshua Bloom (Figaro) Michael Lewis (Count Almaviva)
Conal Coad (Dr. Bartolo)