Journey into another world, by Owen James
Victorian Opera’s production of Il Mago di Oz (The Wizard Of Oz) is a delightful cornucopia of music, design, and storytelling that is sure to put a Ozian smile on your face. Keeping faithful to L. Frank Baum’s original text (now 122 years young), composer Pierangelo Valtinoni and librettist Paolo Madron incorporate characters and plot points that differ slightly from the famous 1939 film, keeping us intrigued every step along the Yellow Brick Road, and twisting our expectations to ensure their work stands on its own in the labyrinth of Oz adaptations.
Georgia Wilkinson shines as Dorothy, a role she was born to play. Adorned in silver shoes (as the original novel dictates – no ruby slippers here!), Wilkinson glides over impossible motifs and confidently fills every crevice of the magnificent Palais without amplification. Her high notes in the penultimate scene melt effortlessly in the air, and she pulls us in to Dorothy’s fairytale with expert repartee between fellow cast and audience alike, emanating joy for performance in every beat.
The Scarecrow (Michael Dimovski), The Tin Man (Stephen Marsh), and The Cowardly Lion (James Emerson) are an equally matched troupe, in vocal prowess and high-strung comedic energy. They each have a distinct sound that defines their characters, and together, provide a masterful blend for a male trio – among the best I’ve heard.
Tiernan Maclaren is the audience favourite as thoroughly over the top Guardian of the Gates, and The Wizard Of Oz himself. Maclaren cracks smiles not only throughout the audience, but in the ranks of the masterful children’s chorus, a highlight every time they pour onstage. Staging Director Constantine Consti has given these cheeky munchkins clear, defined movement – an impressive feat given their number and age!
There are no hummable melodies in Pierangelo Valtinoni’s score, but still it is a musical paradise. The children’s chorus are used to spectacular effect, especially in darker moments, where their haunting phrases remind me of compositions by Michael Abels and Indigenous ensemble Spinifex Gum. Valtinoni captures the atmosphere for each scene with rousing orchestration (divinely conducted by Chad Matthias Kelly), embellished by Paolo Madron’s often amusing libretto, which makes skilful use of purposely out of place slang, always rewarded with a laugh. Daniel Gosling’s projection and lighting design amplifies this magical score, reaching its apex when Dorothy and crew arrive at the Emerald City; the Palais shimmers in green from top to bottom. Costumes by Mel Serjeant are stunning, beautifully tailored for each character and packed with detail.
Il Mago di Oz ran for only two performances, and is another remarkable new work from Victorian Opera. Here’s hoping the season’s success prompts a return in the near future: https://www.victorianopera.com.au/season/il-mago-di-oz