The implausible made possible

14 June 2021

A duet for cats, death by avalanche, dying while singing – the cast from Freeze Frame Opera’s “The Impossibles” deliver implausible operatic moments with gusto, says Sandra Bowdler.

‘The Impossibles’, Freeze Frame Opera
Fremantle Prison, 11 June 2021

Freeze Frame Opera’s very entertaining “The Impossibles” comprises mostly familiar arias demonstrating impossible operatic scenarios, situations and romantic pairings. It is delivered with the aid of a troupe of singers willing to throw themselves into it, led by founder and guiding light Harriet Marshall.

The concert was rescheduled from the May lockdown and unfortunately the new location at Fremantle Prison was a disappointing venue. Luckily the performance was sufficient to distract attention from the seats and surroundings, especially the distant shrieks of those on a ghost tour. We started with a nice acknowledgement of country including those who suffered in the gaol, but the less said about the venue the better.

Rachelle Durkin is probably the best known of the singers here, given her international exposure via the New York Metropolitan Opera. She has always been a stunning onstage presence, if somewhat undisciplined in the vocal department. She opened the show with “E strano … Sempre libera” from Verdi’s La Traviata, a repertoire in which she should spend more time. Her rendition of “Ma quando tornerai” (Alcina) contained some exceptional coloratura, if also a rather wayward high note.

A man in a suit  sings to a lady wearing a black dress
Jun Zhang and soprano Elena Perroni. Photo: Hamish Matthews

The concert was emceed by Perth soprano Penny Shaw, who has demonstrated impressive comic chops in recent years. Even English singer/comedian Anna Russell could not have provided a funnier summation of Catalani’s La Wally. Just the name of the eponymous heroine, enunciated in Shaw’s impeccable English diction, made it hard to keep a straight face. While the opera is never performed, its single hit tune, “Ebben? Ne andro lontana”, has become well known, thanks in particular to the 1981 movie Diva (a sort of homage to Jessye Norman). Harriet Marshall delivered this with appropriate over-the-top dramatics and sizeable vibrato. Her excerpt from Wagner’s Die Walküre (“Du bist der Lenz”) was even more riveting, leading to the thought that maybe this is what she should be doing?

Tenor Jun Zhang’s performance of Rossini’s “La Danza” was another treat and displayed considerable flexibility. In more traditional repertoire (Puccini) he displayed very nice tenor tone, despite some technical difficulties leading to occasional cracks and hoarseness.

Another local soprano with overseas experience, Elena Perroni impressed with real powerhouse high notes in “Un bel di” (Madama Butterfly), but she was also saddled with “I want magic” from one of the dreariest operas I have ever seen, A Streetcar Named Desire (someone should have told Andre Previn that literally setting a play to music does not of itself produce an opera). One of the highlights of the evening was the “Duetto buffu di due gatti” (“Comic duet for two cats”, usually attributed to Rossini but not in fact by him), sung by Durkin and Perroni in hilarious rival divas mode.

Mezzo-soprano Ashlyn Tymms, with credentials from the Royal College of Music, also showed professional sophistication, assuming the role of Carmen in the “Habanera”, without going over the flouncy top as some do. There were many delicious duets and trios, with Tymms joining Shaw (allowed to sing at last) and Marshall in “Je vais” from Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict. I’m afraid the compilation of love songs “which it is impossible to believe are not from operas” left me rather cold, especially given that the only one I could recognise was “I will always love you” (I do have a soft spot for Dolly).

Lachlan Higgins is in his final year at the WA Academy of Performing Arts and is truly a rising star. He stepped in for James Clayton and his rendition of the tongue-twisting “I am the very model of a modern major general” (Pirates of Penzance) was impeccable and I wish he had sung something more than “The Impossible Dream” after that. The finale had everyone joining in for the great Puccini potboiler, “Nessun dorma” (Turandot).

The musical glue holding all this together was the ever-rewarding Tommaso Pollio who managed to make his piano sound like everything from, well, a piano, to a full Wagnerian orchestra, ever at the service of the singers but also providing his own inimitable style.

Freeze Frame Opera’s next performance will be ‘Love Letters’ on 27 June at Kidogo Arthouse.

Pictured top: the cast of Freeze Frame Opera’s production ‘The Impossibles’. Photo: Hamish Matthews

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Author —
Sandra Bowdler

Sandra Bowdler is an archaeologist who has been writing about music for some twenty years, most recently for Opera magazine (UK), Bachtrack and Handel News. She is also the author of “Handel’s Operas in Australia, a performance history” Händel Jarhbuch (2017). Her favourite piece of playground equipment would be the picnic bench with smoked salmon sandwiches and champagne.

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