Friday, February 7, 2014


Emma Mathews (Fiorella) and Paolo Bordogna (The Turk, Selim)

Music:                       Gioachino Rossini
Libretto:                   Felice Romani, after a libretto by Caterino Mazzola

Conductor:               Andrea Molino
Director:                   Simon Phillips
Designer:                  Gabriela Tylesova
Lighting Design:      Nick Schlieper

Opera Australia, Sydney Opera House until 12th February 2014.
Performance 5th February reviewed by Bill Stephens

Luciano Bortelho as Narciso 
Opera shouldn’t be this much fun! One suspects this rarely performed Rossini opera  wasn’t either until Simon Phillips, in cahoots with  his designer, Gabriela Tylesova, came up with the brilliant idea of moving the action into the 1950’s. This fits the characters and situations like a glove.

Tylesova has provided dazzlingly colourful costumes to which Phillips has added outrageous surtitles, and just about every bit of comic stage-business he could think of, to expose this little gem of an opera, and in doing so, provides a sunny evening of deliciously wicked, hilarious entertainment embellished with highly accomplished, stylish singing.

Indeed one of the surprises of this production is Rossini’s inventive score, which at times sounds almost like a send-up of grand opera, but is full of lovely melodies and rousing choruses all of which are given full measure by the cast.

An awkward moment - cast includes L to R Paolo Bordogna, Graeme Macfarlane, Anna Dowsley,Emma Mathews, Luciano Botelho,Conal Coad, Samuel Dundas on table.
Unsurprisingly the storyline is inconsequential and complicated, involving a rich businessman, Geronio (Conal Coad),  his flirtatious wife, Fiorilla (Emma Matthews) , a Turkish Pasha with a roving eye  named Selim (Paolo Bordogna), a gypsy girl called Zaida (Anna Dowsley), who’s in love with Selim, the scruffy leader of the Gypsies, Albazar (Graeme Macfarlane), an Italian dandy named Narciso (Luciano Botelho), and a poet  by the name of Prosdocimo (Samuel Dundas),  who’s looking for inspiration for a play. Do you need to know more?

The Turk loses his trousers - L to R
Anna Dowsley, Paolo Bordogna, Emma Mathews
Samule Dundas and uciano Botelho on table.
Each of the cast grasp with relish, the comic opportunities their roles offer. Tylesova’s witty beachfront setting and eye-wateringly colourful costumes provides lots of excuses to remove or don clothes. Almost every character removes some of his/her clothes at some point and Botelho manages a full-strip change while singing a complicated aria. In fact the show begins with a fashion parade of colourful fifties swimwear, as the chorus arrive and sun themselves on the beach during the overture.

The playing is broad and audience inclusive, and the physical and vocal comedy very funny. With more than a nod to Gina Lollabrigida, Emma Matthews is quite wonderful as the sex-crazed wife, Fiorella, tossing off showy cadenzas like there’s no tomorrow while never once losing her characterisation. Her cat-fight with Anna Dowsley, herself channelling Guiletta Masina in “La Strada”, provides one of the more outrageous highlights.

Emma Mathews (Fiorilla) Paolo Bordogna (The Turk) Luciano Botelho (Narciso)
Paola Bordogna exudes a delicious combination of sleaze, charm and excellent comic timing, as the object of Guiletta’s affections, the Turkish Pasha, Selim, and is well- matched by Luciano Botelho’s sweet voiced, ineffectual, if remarkably persistent rival, Narciso.

Conal Coad as Geronio
Conal Coad is in his element as Fiorella’s long-suffering, foolish husband, Geronio, while Samuel Dundas shows off some impressive cocktail-waiter skills as the poet, Prosdocimo, while Graeme Macfarlane is practically unrecognisable as Albazar,  the dour and dirty leader of the gypsies. Even Elvis Presley gets a Guernsey when at the masquerade ball everyone shows up dressed either as Elvis or Marilyn Monroe.

Samuel Dundas as poet/barman Prosdocino with Anna Dowsley (Zaida) 
Despite all the hectic comedic business, the singing is never compromised, and conductor Andrea Molino made sure it was beautifully supported by the excellent Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra.

According to director, Simon Phillips, “Comedy is about an honest idea taken to ludicrous extremes”, and he certainly proves his point with this deliciously refreshing, brilliant production, which,  judging from the audience reaction at this performance, could very well become a crowd-pleasing staple in Opera Australia’s repertoire .

Gabriela Tylesova's set decorated by the ladies of the chorus. 
                                                                         Photos by Branco Gaica