A Christmas caper to cure the Grinch

16 December 2022

Outstanding young artists, a clever Hansel and Gretel and opera royalty are all part of an infectious mix in Freeze Frame Opera’s Christmas delight, writes Emma Jayakumar.

‘Christmas at the Quarry’, Freeze Frame Opera ·
Quarry Amphitheatre, 15 December 2022 ·

I urge anyone with the “Bah! Humbugs” to set them aside and come along to Freeze Frame Opera’s wonderful Christmas romp, now in its fifth year. 

My very weary young son and I arrive at the venue and park easily (thanks to excellent and friendly parking genies in the carpark), stroll into the venue, where we are welcomed with smiles and good cheer, buy some raffle tickets, and sit down to have our picnic dinner in the quarry with minimal fuss.  

An excellent Jarred Wall is chilling out the crowd with his smooth and heartfelt covers and originals, and I start to relax instantly. 

Two young people in Scout-type outfits are outdoors around a table with a cricket bat, flashlight and other camping paraphernalia around them. One is sitting on a chair smiling, a leg tucked up; while the other is kneeling on the wooden deck, arms outstretched. This is Freeze Frame Opera's staging of Hansel and Gretel.
Ruth Burke and Sophia Wasley are standouts as Hansel and Gretel. Photo: Nic Babic/Artshoot Media

The evening begins with a restaging of FFO’s abridged Hansel and Gretel schools show, in English and reimagined on an Australian camping trip. As an advocate and practising composer of accessible young audience work, I commend FFO for this version of Humperdinck’s traditionally quite lengthy opera, which has been abridged with skill and musically re-arranged lovingly by Tommaso Pollio (piano), for himself and the charming Sophie Curtis (cello) and the inimitable Cathie Travers (piano accordion).  

Director Matt Ward has translated this version cleverly and it has many genuinely laugh-out loud moments of slapstick. FFO rising stars Sophia Wasley (Gretel) and Ruth Burke (Hansel) are standouts, holding the stage with poise and navigating challenging vocal writing with maturity and cheekiness.

A group of men in dark suits and white shirts stand on a wooden stage, microphones in hand. One is singing into the microphone while the others look on. This is Freeze Frame Opera's Christmas at the Quarry.
Teddy Tahu Rhodes (centre) is joined by Lachie Higgins, Benjamin del Borello, Vin Trikeriotis, Robert Hofman and Devon Lake. Photo: Nic Babic/Artshoot Media

Harriet Marshall is hilarious as the Witch, clearly relishing the chance to be the villain for once, and Prue Saunders and Robert Hofman are fun and dorky parents, rounding off the first act with a warm ensemble.  

An excellent trio who work extremely well together, Tiramisu kick off the second half with a rollicking interpretation of Haydn’s “Gypsy Rondo”, arranged brilliantly by Curtis and featuring lots of Christmas carol nuggets. Later we are treated to some instrumental solos, including a gorgeous solo from Travers introducing the singers.  

Australian opera royalty Teddy Tahu Rhodes strides onto the stage to deliver a Sinatra Christmas classic with impressive swagger, before lots of Broadway musical theatre hits. Lachie Higgins and Benjamin del Borrello deliver a terrific and funny rendition of “Agony” from Sondheim’s Into the Woods, a sweet Morgan Cowling sings the slightly compositionally overwrought “The Light in the Piazza”, and a concert-stealingly-good Devon Lake performs “Stars” from Les Mis (a singer to watch). 

Harriet Marshall and Vin Trikeriotis have what can only be described as an operatic/rock singer competitive smackdown when they offer a rendition of the arguably ridiculous composition “Barcelona”, originally recorded and performed by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé. Not to my taste, but it undoubtably shows some formidable singing chops, particularly from Trikeriotis. 

Harriet Marshall and Vin Trikeriotis show their singing chops. Photo: Nic Babic/Artshoot Media

Skilfully threading all these musical pearls together is the terrifically comedic Penny Shaw, in fine vocal form and an excellent MC keeping the mood light and fun.  

The rest of the evening features some dazzling, light, swoon-worthy and funny renditions of Christmas classics, including “O Tannenbaum” (introduced with tenderness by Hofmann’s lovely baritone), the Aussie “12 Days of Christmas”, “Silent Night” (fabulous musical arrangement) and the best medley I’ve heard from Pollio, befitting the camp, cheeky, highly skilled and slightly bonkers musical finesse of this fantastic group. Songs “mashed up” included snippets from the likes of the Polar Express, George Michael, the Pogues, John Lennon and Handel.  

Anyone in need of de-Grinching, get along to this concert. Merry Christmas! 

Christmas at the Quarry is on until 18 December 2022. 

Pictured top: Penny Shaw, Prudence Sanders, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Harriet Marshall and Morgan Cowling are full of the Christmas spirit. Photo: Nic Babic/Artshoot Media

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Author —
Emma Jayakumar

Emma Jayakumar is an Australian composer and librettist whose recent major works include commissions for West Australian Opera, the ABC, Darwin Symphony Orchestra, Awesome Arts, West Australian Ballet and Music Book. Emma is an advocate for accessible works for young audiences, as well as new music celebrating diverse Australian voices.

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