21 December @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by Perth Symphonic Chorus ·
Handel’s Messiah is a musical rite of passage for the Christmas season. Directed by Perth’s own brilliant choral director Dr Margaret Pride OAM, solos reign supreme in the Baroque-era oratorio featuring the illustrious soloists, mezzo-soprano Fiona Campbell, tenor Richard Butler, bass James Clayton and, singing with us for the first time, soprano Bonnie de la Hunty.
The opening movement highlights the birth of Christ and will come to life in this outstanding virtuosic interpretation not to be missed. The Perth Symphonic Chorus propels, with emotional impact, uplifting messages and juxtaposes brilliantly on choruses like Since By Man Came Death, all in the lead up to the exalted Hallelujah chorus.
Review: West Australian Opera, Macbeth ⋅
His Majesty’s Theatre, 19 October ⋅
Review by Sandra Bowdler ⋅
West Australian Opera’s new production of Verdi’s Macbeth must be one of the best offerings in Australian opera in recent years, a complete success in almost every aspect. The work in itself is an excellent distillation of the Shakespeare play, with great clarity of story-telling, musical characterisation and atmosphere aplenty just waiting to be brought to life by creative operatic forces.
With respect to the staging, Roger Kirk’s simple but clever set comprised a combination of large moveable uprights and lighting effects with bursts of dry ice brilliantly reflecting the creepy environs of the witches and gloomy Scottish castles, the latter enhanced as appropriate by sumptuous costuming depicting the courtly scenes of Duncan’s visit to Glamis castle and the crowning of the Macbeths. The witches – in the opera Verdi multiplies the original three into three sections of a women’s choir – are suitably weird in black gowns with large-toothed necklaces, the male nobles are represented as barbaric warriors, all kilts and furs and crossed swords, while Lady Macbeth appears initially in her underwear (bodice and long underskirt), but wears a truly magnificent red and gold gown in her stately scenes. The courtiers define the period with sixteenth century starched ruffs and Elizabethan hairdos. It is clear that director Stuart Maunder and the designer Roger Kirk were sharing a coherent vision. The coming of Birnam Wood to Dunsinane was wonderfully effected by shafts of green light cutting through the darkling stage, and the battle at the end was one of the best staged fight scenes I have seen, where you could easily track who was doing what to whom in a convincing fashion.
The West Australian Symphony Orchestra play magnificently under Brad Cohen, with every nuance and dynamic subtlety of the score brought forth without ever overriding the singers. The WA Opera Chorus is exemplary, moving confidently around the stage whether representing witches, warriors or courtiers and singing with precision and conviction.
James Clayton in the baritone title role cements his reputation as an operatic star. His voice is resonant and accurate and he projects charisma and authority as a leader, no less convincing in his deterioration and desperation as he follows the course he has set himself. Both opera and play are usually considered to be a morality tale on the dangers of blind ambition, not to mention warnings against heeding false prophets (there is a view this was originally aimed at James I and VI who was unduly preoccupied with witches), but there is also the influence of the ultimate power wife.
The motivation of Verdi’s Lady Macbeth is somewhat more obscure than that of Shakespeare’s. In the play we find out early on that Lady Macbeth bore a child who has somehow disappeared from the Macbeths’ lives, presumably dying young. Verdi omits this information and we are left with a far less sympathetic character who seems bent on evil almost for its own sake. The character has been portrayed by many a famous soprano, and often tends toward caricature. Antoinette Halloran teeters on that edge, but overall manages a convincing portrait of a woman determined for her husband to rise in society no matter what it takes. Her vocalism suffers somewhat however, with her undeniably powerful high notes tending to sound somewhere between shrill and squally at the top. Overall however her dramatic rendition provides a suitable reading of the character.
The rest of the cast is nowhere less than excellent. Jud Arthur is a commanding Banquo and a terrifying ghost, and tenor Paul O’Neill a ringing Macduff, ably partnered by Matthew Lester as Malcolm. The small roles of Lady Macbeth’s Lady in Waiting and the Doctor are more than adequately performed by Ashlyn Tymms and Kristin Bowtell, respectively.
Verdi is not exactly an obscure composer for the lyric stage, but Macbeth is certainly more of a rarity than the well-trod path of Trov and Trav. It is great to see this collaboration between WAO and State Opera South Australia bestow such excellent production values on something rather off the beaten (Australian) path.
Review: West Australian Opera, Don Giovanni ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 20 October ·
Review by Leon Levy ·
The conductor Hans Richter, when asked to nominate the greatest composer, replied “Beethoven, undoubtedly”. Taken aback, the questioner retorted “But I thought you might have considered Mozart”. “Oh,” said Richter, “I didn’t understand that you were bringing Mozart into the argument; I thought you were referring to the rest”.
Many decades on, with Verdi and Wagner recognised for their genius, is it possible that Mozart’s operatic star is now outshone? If that is a plausible notion, West Australian Opera’s remount of the 1991 Opera Australia production by the late Gӧran Jӓrvefelt and Carl Friedrich Oberle deals decisively with the suggestion.
But now a question surely arises in relation to the character of Don Giovanni himself. Themes of cruelty and injustice abound throughout drama, and the character of the philanderer surely falls within this broad spectrum, often eliciting an amused acceptance. Not only the degrading role that the Don assigns to women and which forms an unwavering thread through the work, but the casual disregard of the freshly-murdered Commendatore and the freedom with which, as of right, he sidelines the newly married Masetto in order to seduce Zerlina, all of these suggest a work that would not be acceptable to a modern audience… were it not for the fact that the moral bankruptcy of the man is so clearly revealed, to say nothing of the end that he meets.
On opening night everything that Mozart set to music in this work unfolded in a way that held the audience in its grip through three hours. From the first notes of the overture one was aware that we were in the safest of hands: Brad Cohen, conducting the West Australian Symphony Orchestra with dash and sensitivity as required, brought distinction to the accompaniment.
In the title role, Teddy Tahu Rhodes’s reputation precedes him and his stature and stamina – both vocally and physically — help to delineate his character, while all whose paths cross with his fully inhabit their roles. First on stage, James Clayton as Leporello, the Don’s much-abused manservant, immediately establishes his character, and goes on to sing throughout the evening with a vocal gleam that one would have been excited to encounter in – shall we say – Salzburg! And as each cast member appears, one notes with pleasure that we have before us a gathering performance of uniform excellence, each member cutting a plausible figure in his or her role; and, thereafter, highlights abound.
Emma Pearson, as the abandoned but still infatuated Donna Elvira, captures her character’s conflicted emotions, reaching a peak of torment in Mi tradi. So too does Anita Watson as Donna Anna, whose shock and devastation at the murder of her father have to be balanced with the needs of her fiancée Don Ottavio; in her heartfelt Non mi dir, her torment is conveyed in full.
Meanwhile the hapless Don Ottavio, who seems destined to have to wait a further year before reaching the marital bed, must be content with the relatively colourless persona that librettist Da Ponte has assigned to him. Consolation for this is provided by his aria Il mio Tesoro, mellifluously sung by Jonathan Abernethy.
As the newly married rustics Masetto and Zerlina, Wade Kernot and Rebecca Castellini convey subtleties of characterisation, she almost vulnerable to the Don’s charisma, he deeply wounded by his suspicions and by the assertion of the latter’s superiority by virtue of class. Jud Arthur, as creepy an animated statue of the dead Commendatore as you could wish to encounter, makes his mark in the high drama of the conclusion (which left the audience gasping).
A word must be said, too, for the fine ensemble work throughout: the trio Protegga il giusto cielo and the sextet Sola, sola in buio loco are examples of many compelling moments.
In sum, a magnificent night at the opera, a triumph for all involved, and a memorable conclusion to the 2018 season. The assembled cast, conductor, Roger Press (rehearsal director), Oberle (set and costume designer) in person, Nigel Levings (lighting) and Andy Fraser (fight director) received a warm and richly deserved ovation… as surely did Mozart and Da Ponte.