Monday, October 13, 2014

REVIEW: Martini's Il Maestro di Musica – Intermezzo

Dom Pedro V Theatre (Macao), Saturday October 11

The Macao International Music Festival this year featured Bellini's NORMA, something that I would really like to see, but unfortunately I was in Australia. Instead, I opted to go to an 18th century opera buffa composed by Giovanni Battista Martini called Il Maestro di Musica - Intermezzo (The Music Teacher). Even though it is just an Intermezzo which lasted only 45 minutes, I always think that visiting Dom Pedro V Theatre (one of the earliest western-style theatres in China and inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List) is a treat.

According to the programme, Il Maestro di Musica (The Music Teacher) "portrays an “inverted” generational clash between an old-fashioned student and a modernist music teacher. This is the cue for a reflection on the singing style and more generally on the evolution of taste, also filled with delightful winks about the mania and debilities of the teatro alla moda." The reality is that, perhaps due to the translation or the style, the narrative and the parody was just not apparent. Instead, the performance felt like a bit more of a recital connected by a theme.

This production by the Teatro Comunale di Bologna was beautifully trimmed down for the smaller Dom Pedro V Theatre. The Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, led by Paolo Mancini played with elegance, while tenor Aldo Caputo as the teacher and mezzo-soprano Antonella Colaianni sang with competence and confidence to very good effect. Unfortunately, even their animated dramatic style was not able to help bring the opera alive.

Here's a video of a performance at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna


Composer: Giovanni Battista Martini (1706-1784)
Production: Teatro Comunale di Bologna
Conductor: Paolo Mancini
Stage Director: Gabriele Marchesini

Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna 

Tamburlano (The old teacher) - Aldo Caputo, Tenor
Olimpino (The young student) - Antonella Colaianni, Mezzo-soprano


Friday, October 10, 2014

REVIEW: Les Miserables (Australia)

Her Majesty's Theatre (Melbourne), Saturday October 4

I can’t even remember when I saw the original production; it must be more than 20 years ago. Since then, tons of audio and video recordings have been released and even a movie was made. When it comes to the stage version however, the one defining design of the original production was the rotating stage. While this is not a modern innovation, it definitely aided the extensive narrative of the Victor Hugo novel. What attracted me to this performance at the Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne is the fact that it is a new production.

Cameron Mackintosh has tried to update and downsize original productions for them to be tour-friendly before. I have seen a new Miss Saigon (2007 in Melbourne) and The Phantom of the Opera (2012 in Cardiff) before and they tend not to measure up to the original one. This new production of Les Miserables, however, came the closest. While the rotating stage is gone, this new production managed to remain clear, concise and charismatic due to its effective stage directions (Laurence Connor & James Powell) and exact lighting design (Paule Constable). The set (Matt Kinley) was simple but it provided enough depth and texture to compliment the atmosphere and context that was achieved by projections (Matt Kinley), that were inspired by Victor Hugo’s own drawings.

My biggest disappointment is the performance. YES! Some of the performances were ghastly. Simon Gleeson’s Jean Valjean heads the list. Gleeson was a very effective actor but he took his acting to a level where he forgot to sing. At the end of the day, this is a musical. Unless the role is the King in The King and I or Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady, I would rather hear the songs sung. Alternating lines of melody with heavy and grunting oration doesn’t do it for me. Trevor Ashley’s Thenardier was all acting and growling. The lovebirds in Emily Langridge’s Cosette and Euan Doidge’s Marius must be the most painful to watch in the production. They sounded like high school kids in high school productions, lacking in depth of understanding and emotion to their roles. While their young sound may just suit the actual age that they were portraying, it didn't do any good to the gorgeous music that was assigned to them.

It was not all bad. Hayden Tee’s Javert was very effective. He acted through his wonderful singing and managed to communicate his sentiments and dilemma with clarity. Lara Mulcahy’s Madame Thenardier was absolutely perfect! No BUT. Chris Durling and Patrice Tipoki were both vocally and dramatically ample as Enjolras and Fantine respectively. Kerrie Ann Greenland’s Eponine was fierce. She infused the role with a distinct ghetto feel that I thought that she would start rapping anytime soon. I don’t mind that. In fact, I actually find that quite refreshing. Her singing was not pretty, but the roughness went well with the character.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

REVIEW: Handel’s Rodelinda (Australia)

Melbourne Recital Centre, Friday October 3

“Oh, she bosses me around… that’s maybe because I bossed her around when she was a kid”, says the lady seated beside me. Apparently, she is the mother of soprano Greta Bradman, who sang the role of Rodelinda. How I wish I can say that I have heard Bradman before and how fabulous she was. Instead, I just quipped that I have seen Rodelinda before in Munich and continued to listen to her giving advice to another lady on how to become a great soprano. The reality is that I opted to go to this performance because of the living legend Maestro Richard Bonynge. His name alone has made me buy the tickets and I was not disappointed at all.

I have only seen Rodelinda once before and it was a staged version at Munich Staatsoper. In fact, that same production is available in DVD. It features Dorothea Roschmann (Rodelinda), Michael Chance (Bertarido), Felicity Palmer (Eduige), Paul Nilo (Grimoaldo), Christopher Robson (Unulfo) and Umberto Chiummo (Garibaldo) and was conducted by Ivor Bolton. An opera is best appreciated when seen properly staged as the music was crafted for that purpose. Having said that, this concert version presented by the Joan Sutherland & Richard Bonynge Foundation was by far better if music alone is to be considered. Maestro Richard Bonynge conducted with immense confidence; and that was exactly the sound the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra produced. Above all, I am just so glad to see Bonynge in such great health. His posture and grace, together with his obvious love for the music he was performing was indeed most inspiring.

Greta Bradman’s Rodelinda was exquisite with good vocal control. Her interpretation was a good balance of drama without making the sound and role too heavy. Fiona Janes’ Bertarido (husband of Rodelinda) was a pleasure to listen to. She shows great depth of understanding and feeling for her role. I tend to prefer counter-tenors for this role, but Janes rich mezzo was an ample substitute. John Longmuir’s Grimoaldo was one of the highlights of the evening. His tenor voice has a rich fine tone and was effortless in executing high notes. Liane Keegan as Eduige showcased her robust contralto voice wonderfully and demonstrated the conflict she felt between her King brother (Bertarido) and the man (Grimoaldo) who has usurped the throne. Lorina Gore got the thankless role of Unulfo (friend of Bertarido), but she infused the role with great enthusiasm and skill; and somehow, made herself noticed. Michael Lewis’s Garibaldo may be more suitable in a staged version. While he brings great intensity to the role, his tone sounded too rugged amongst the other finer tones.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

REVIEW: Short + Sweet Hobart – Program One (Australia)

The Playhouse Theatre, Wednesday October 1

There was not much going on in Hobart and my choices are either to see Cole Porter’s Anything Goes or the inaugural Short + Sweet in Hobart (Tasmania). Short + Sweet, on its thirteenth year, is the biggest festival of ten-minute theatre in the world. It started as a small festival of 10 minute plays in Sydney, Australia; and since then, have grew into an international organisation. Short+Sweet has made a difference in Australian theatre scene through developing new, original work with emerging artists and providing a platform for established artists to showcase their talents. Currently Short+Sweet locations in Australia include Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Canberra, Newcastle, Townsville, Rockhampton and now in Hobart! Short + Sweet is also in India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Dubai, Singapore and United Arab Emirates.

I suppose, at this point, I think the choice is clear. Beside, how many Anything Goes can one see in a lifetime… The Short + Sweet Hobart has three programs and each program has ten plays. I went to the Program One and it has the following plays:
  1. Tumbling Down (TAS) - Written by Ingrid Ganley; Directed by Julie Waddington 
  2. Love Me Tinder (TAS) - Written and Directed by Samantha Lush 
  3. The Audience (NSW) - Written by Grant Woolley; Directed by Cassie Xintavelonis 
  4. The Marineers Necklace (TAS) - Written and directed by Leigh Swinbourne 
  5. Will’s Dramaturg (USA) - Written by Rich Rubin; Directed by Tai Gardner 
  6. Transactions (VIC) - Written by Scott McAteer; Directed by Ingrid Ganley 
  7. Winter (Aus) - Written by Sue Smith; Directed by Justan Wagner 
  8. Milton (NSW) - Written by Robert Armstrong; Directed by Cassie Xintavelonis 
  9. The Twist (TAS) - Written by David Rish; Directed by John Andrews 
  10. Bankin’ On The Grand (USA) - Written by Chris Shaw Swanson; Directed by Maeve MacGregor 

I went to The Playhouse Theatre expecting a festive and exciting crowd, but there was none of that. There were only about 30 people in the audience in a theatre that can seat about 230. That didn’t bode well… but how wrong I was! Overall, the quality was high. While some performances can benefit from a few more run, I totally enjoyed the whole experience. Some of my favorites are:

  • TRANSACTIONS, written by Scott McAteer and directed by Ingrid Ganley. It is about a lonely man who visited a prostitute as he has done many times before. He was trying to fill in a gap in his life. He wants a sexless life that is defined by security and comfort. He wants to be rich and able to provide for his wife and two kids. She, on the other hand was tired of playing the strange role of a contented wife. The play showed the 10 minute transaction that was not going as planned. While the play has only two characters, the role playing within the work elevated the it into a multi-character and scenario play. Apart from a very good script, the play was brilliantly performed by Karissa Lane (She) and Ivano Del Pio (He) 
  • THE AUDIENCE, written by Grant Woolley and directed by Cassie Xintavelonis. It is about the performers playing the role of audience and then suddenly finding out that they are actually the performers! The best part of this work is the proposition of the play itself. It is Kafkaesque and it is brilliant. The script was good; but I can’t help but feel that it can even be wittier and surreal... well, easier said than done. The play was performed by Gill Hunt (Sandra) and Pip Tyrrell (Francesca), who were effective, but would also benefit from more rehearsal. 
  • WILL'S DRAMATURG, written by Rich Rubin and directed by Tai Gardner. This was an allusion to William Shakespeare meeting a modern dramaturg who believed that Will was not doing it right. The play was clever and funny in showing how the modern notion of “knowing the audience” and pandering to the demographics can be quite alien to the greatest playwright. Both John Xintavelonis (William Shakespeare) and Justan Wagner (Todd) were perfect… that is if you believe Shakespeare was Australian.
If I was in Hobart for a longer period, I would have gone to all the three programs! Congratulations to Short + Sweet Hobart for such a great start!


Monday, October 6, 2014

REVIEW: Michael Collins with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (Launceston, Australia)

Albert Hall, Saturday September 26

What looks like a multi-purpose town hall was buzzing with excitement. It must be the social event of the year in this sleepy town and all the cultured senior people of Launceston have gathered for it. This is my first time in Tasmania and the first time I am going to hear the orchestra. By the look and feel of Launceston, I really had no reason to look forward to this concert except the fact that Michael Collins (who did a fine job in Hong Kong with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta two weeks ago) is the soloist and Nicholas McGegan is conducting.

The evening started Beethoven's Coriolan Overture that made me sit up. The ensemble was actually not bad at all; and I meant that in the most complimentary way. It was a decent performance and the acoustic of the hall from where I sat (2nd row front) was focused enough.

Albert Hall

Michael Collins' performance of Weber's Clarinet Concerto No. 2 was technically impressive without resorting to rigidity. The tone was smooth and performance was fluid and dynamic; and maestro McGegan and the orchestra responded most well. The concerto is a showcase piece and that’s exactly what the performance did.

After the interval came Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, popularly know as Eroica. The reading was neither explosive nor driven, McGegan took a moderate and structured stand that I find appropriate. While the performance lacked the gloss that most recording listeners may yearn for, it compensated it with a strapping and stoic interpretation. Overall, it was a night well spent.

Beethoven’s Vienna
7:30pm Saturday 27 Sep 2014 - Albert Hall, Launceston, Tasmania

BEETHOVEN Coriolan Overture
WEBER Clarinet Concerto No 2
BEETHOVEN Symphony No 3, Eroica

Nicholas McGegan, Conductor
Michael Collins, Clarinet

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra