Monday, June 4, 2012

Opera Australia: Right, Everyone Join In On The Chorus.

Milica Illic (left) as Queen of the Night and Taryn Fiebig as Pamina in The Magic Flute. Photo Justin Nicholas.

I remember an opera comedienne who would hit a high note, then catch her breath and shout at the audience, ‘come on everyone join in on the chorus,’ or something to that effect.

There’s something about opera with its divas, unlikely overweight soprano and tenor lovers, stodgy performances and general pomposity, which encourages the spoof, the send-up and a certain amount of derision.

Or at least that used to be the case, when opera was at the top of the mountain of high art and sponsors and supporters were perceived to be an elite group of precious patrons, but the world is changing.

Nowadays, a new wave of artistic directors, working with theatrically aware directors, is bringing the art form from  those rarified peaks of artistic endeavor and into the people’s paddock.

In short, OA aspires to live in the love of the common people.

There was nowhere that was more obvious then in Brisbane the past couple of weeks, when audiences were treated to Opera Australia’s two most recent success stories.

OA’s artistic director, Lyndon Terracini, is bringing the company back to the Queensland capital for the time first in more than two decades – the last visit was 1988 – with two state-of-art productions designed with mainstream appeal in mind.

The key to the productions’ success is as much in the direction as the versatility of the performers, who can sing as well as act, dance and in some cases engage in breathtaking gymnastics.

I am talking about ‘directing stars’ from the world stage in the shape of The Lion King’s Julie Taymor and Australia’s own behind-the-camera matinee idol Baz Luhrmann. 

Today old Alfred Hitchcok would have had to share the spotlight among the living stars of the director's chair.

The first in this double-header was a completely overhauled Mozart classic, The Magic Flute, which was trimmed down to two hours – with interval – and could easily hold its own in the highly competitive Broadway market place.

This magical piece of spin, which saw Mozart’s 1791 masterpiece morph into a slice of family entertainment which would look quite comfortable next to The Lion King or even Mary Poppins, was the brainchild of Julie Taymor (pictured).

The work came to life at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and was given its Australian renaissance by Matthew Barclay and as they say in the ‘op-biz’ it’s sure to irritate the purists.

This work is a theatrical cavalcade of colour, whimsy and joy as the troupe winds its way through a shortened version of Mozart’s mysterious work with its links to Masonic traditions.

Julie Taymor is well equipped to create this achievement as she has what cricket followers call, ‘ the runs on the board’,  with The Lion King breaking records at the Broadway box office, to the tune of more than $853 million, and now the seventh most successful show on Broadway.

(The most successful is still The Phantom of the Opera.)

The director, who also brought us The Beatles inspired movie love story, Across the Universe, also has a swag of awards including Tony Awards for direction and costume design with The Lion King.

While The Magic Flute runs a crisp and to-the-point 120 minutes, Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Summer Night’s Dream takes a more meandering route.

The show runs for more than three hours – with two intervals – but once again the cast demonstrates a broad sweep of performance skills.

Baz Luhrmann (pictured), who set his Dream in India around 1923, coaxed some wonderful acting performances out of his singing cast and draped his production in eye-catching fashion both in the set and costume departments.

The designers were Bill Marron and his wife and long-term professional partner Catherin Martin.

Once again stage and film director, Baz Luhrmann, is the very model of a modern operatic practitioner and brings a great sense of skill, crafts and originality to the medium.

His big screen credits, for those who need reminding, include Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge and Australia, but he’s also had a good track record with the OA.

His La Boheme on Broadway back in 2002 won three Tony Awards.

The OA is back in Brisbane with a bang.

The double header season runs until Friday and Saturday (June 8 and 9) but there’s talk of more to come.

Here’s a sample from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A scene from the Dream. Photo Branco Garcia

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