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28 February, 2005

Fine Fledermaus in Sydney, awfully amplified

Sydney Opera House

Friday 25th February 2005

AdeleAmelia Farrugia
AlfredoAndrew Brunsdon
RosalindeMiriam Gordon-Stewart
EisensteinAngus Wood
JailerJonathan Biggins
withChristopher Dawes,
Tim DuFore,
John Bolton Wood,
Catherine Carby.
ConductorNicholas Braithwaite

Dear Colleagues,

This Autumn season we are again treated to a marvellous romp based on Johann Strauss's classic, set in New York, in English (of a sort). The action starts with Adele talking on her mistress's telephone in their grand high rise deco apartment.

For me the high point of the opera is the song of the 'Princess'. Ms Gordon Stewart did it fine vocal justice using farcical but somehow fitting new English verse. Just as the pseudo-French "Renard" and "Chagrin" use pig-French: 'voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?', our mock Hungarian juggled her words. She even had to correct herself, 'Budapest' for 'Bucharest' in her hitherto serious homeland 'czardas' anthem. She looked out onto (land-locked) Hungary's "rolling seas" rhyming with the walls of its "factories"! Although taking a risk playing a 'Sutherland' role in Sydney, this soprano was equal to the challenge, singing with charm, elan and power. She even hit a sustained high last note, rather than scooping (or omitting) it.

Ex-pat Russian millionaire (?Putin refugee) Orlovsky then announces "Ginger Rogers and Fred Astair" will dance to Irving Berlin's tune 'Cheek to cheek'. So too did the accomplished opera chorus, again showing their versatility and professionalism, dancing on to the Blue Danube Waltz. The champagne is followed by a nasty hangover which occurs in 37th precinct lock-up with the night duty sergeant typewriting his new novella. The clever English 'translation' by Pountney and Hancock, suitably supplemented with topical people and events made for a hilarious continuo. Mr Bolton Wood as Frank could not have been more amusing while Jonathan Biggins (NYPD) deserved an accolade for his clever 'graveyard shift' scene in the Precinct. Farrugia twice took the stage to impress as a budding 'airctress'. Both her laughing song and third act 'audition' were brilliantly acted and sung. Brunsdon played a fine Alfredo, adding yet another accent. As implied in the libretto he plays an imperfect 'can belto' tenor who lets us know. Angus Wood again justified his decision to move from baritone to tenor register.

The essence of Lindy Hume's original production has been maintained and updated in this staging by Elizabeth Hill. The orchestra seemed to be having a great time under Mr Braithwaite. They were even called upon to play the ABC news theme at one point!

Overt amplification is irritating and unnecessary in the opera house. It detracts from the most important aspect of this expensive art form, voice quality, size and projection. These singers are nearly all trained to fill opera houses and it is demeaning to them and vexing to an opera audience to hear reverberations and uneven electronic fortification of both musical and spoken parts. Feedback is fatal. Most off-putting were momentary increases in volume when singers came close to colleagues' lapel microphones. If there are some 'dead' areas in the auditorium then some subtle 'enhancement' may be appropriate but in general this should not be needed in my view. If people think that the dialogue needs enhancement I suggest they look at the titles, or the speakers should be turned off for the singing. I heard no complaints from all the dialogue in Carmen last week in this smallish theatre with relatively kind acoustics.

While I found them quite amusing, a native may have found the various local 'American' accents bewildering. In fact, Manhattan has always been replete with accents, even Australian ones!

Another exciting addition to the summer/autumn season at the Sydney Opera House.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..