Thursday, October 18, 2018

EVITA, by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. At Sydney Opera House, October 17 2018

Reviewed by Tony Magee

Kurt Kansley as Che. Photo by Jeff Busby
Trying to recreate what has already been created seems to me a pursuit of dubious merit. In presenting Evita, Opera Australia have opted for the original direction by Hal Prince and original choreography by Larry Fuller, with the original design by Timothy O'Brien.

The result is a cast seemingly going through the motions rather than the freshness one might expect from new ideas. The premise of "you show me and I'll show them" is all too evident in some of this production.

Having said that, there are some powerful moments that engage. Notably, the cinema scene at the very beginning, the side-on view staging of the Charity Concert and the powerful closing of the first act with "A New Argentina".

By far the star of this production is Kurt Kansley singing the role of Che. His superb diction, brilliant singing voice and powerful characterization underpin the entire show and was a joy to behold. His character also serves to advance the plot significantly.

Notable also was Paulo Szot, perfectly cast as Eva’s military dictator husband Juan Peron. His stunning, rich baritone voice filled the theatre with ease.

The orchestra under the direction of Guy Simpson were superb, displaying perfection in tuning and intonation, thrilling dynamics and majestic playing. The best pit orchestra I have heard and one that could easily hold its own playing the symphonic repertoire.

Alternate actress and singer Jemma Rix as Eva Peron, presented the show's high spot, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" in a moving and captivating manner. It was also the only time we were really able to hear her excellent singing voice to maximum potential.

Yes, this is a show where everything is pinned on one great number - the rest of the score arguably being one continuous recitative. Puccini achieved a similar result with Turandot, having the great “Nessun Dorma” buried away in Act II.

Jemma Rix as Eva Peron
The plaintive "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" and "High Flying, Adored" are admirable inclusions, but seem placed in a desperate attempt by the composers to add another couple of commercial tunes to keep the audience interested.

The other aspect of this production which deserves praise however, is the ongoing archival film footage, particularly crucial in helping advance the plot during the scenes where Eva Peron travels the world, thrusting Argentina briefly into the international spotlight, as the charismatic and beautiful First Lady engages with other countries, only to be snubbed somewhat by Britain towards the end of her tour.

This brings into perspective in some ways the swift and effective action of Margaret Thatcher years later, when she pounced decisively on Argentina after they invaded the Falklands.

The relentless dependence on rhythmic and melodic motifs and ideas from the earlier and brilliant Jesus Christ Superstar is also something that wore thin with this reviewer. Having just returned from a delightful student performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni at The Con, the contrast between inspired genius and sustained mediocrity was well and truly rammed home.

Evita is a flawed opera in so many ways, however this production is none-the-less slickly produced. Fans will no doubt be delighted. I found it tedious.