Tag: Opera Australia

Review: The Phantom of the Opera 

The Phantom will be inside your mind long after the curtain falls.

By Sebastian Purcell

The Phantom of the Opera opened on London’s West End in October 1986 and has been re-staged many times over for the past 36 years. Opera Australia’s season of Phantom of the Opera is beautifully re-imagined through an exquisite and lively production. Director Laurence Connor has breathed fresh life into arguably one of the most successful and recognisable musicals in history.

For those unaware, the story is set In the late 1800’s. The cast of the Paris Opera House are rehearsing a new production of Hannibal when resident soprano prima donna Carlotta Giunicelli’s (Giuseppina Grech) aria is interrupted by a stage accident. Ballet dancer Christine Daaé (Amy Manford) takes over the role to great acclaim, but her unseen angel of music teacher the Phantom (Josh Piterman) is enraged when his physical deformity is revealed. Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (Blake Bowden) falls in love with Christine, promising to protect her from the Phantom. Christine must then choose between her love of performing and the love of her life.

As one expects from Opera Australia, the vocal performances of the 37 strong cast are flawless. Amy Manford’s performance as Christine is the best I have ever seen. Think of Me, Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, and The Phantom of the Opera are chillingly breathtaking. However, it’s her performance of Notes/Twisted Every Way that grounds the character as a frightened child, being used by the men in her life. Manford draws the audience to a standing ovation – and deservedly so. 

Josh Piterman’s Phantom is full of interesting choices. While vocally exquisite and smooth and his renditions of Music of the Night, All I Ask of You (reprise) and The Point of No Return are pitch perfect, he plays the role more gently, more humanly than other portrayals. However. I must say I missed at times the cruelty and anger of previous Phantoms which tie the inward ugliness of the character to his physical ugliness. The staging of this production at times also humanised the Phantom, placing him amongst the cast for the Act Two opener Masquerade/ Why so Silent? as opposed to above the cast, on a staircase, as per previous productions. For me, this reduced his stature and consequently less likely to be feared. Nonetheless, Piterman’s performance is worth the top billing. 

Blake Bowden’s performance as Raoul is also outstanding. His tone is silky throughout All I Ask of You and the trio of Bowden, Piterman and Manford soar in Wondering Child. Credit must go to the sound design team at the State Theatre as every note is clearly audible. The ensemble is tight, and well utilised throughout for scene changes adding impressive colour and movement. 

Paul Brown’s set design is the boldest I’ve seen and is as jaw dropping as the performances themselves. The well-known bridge to the Phantom’s lair is replaced with the most magnificent spiral staircase. The scenes are densely populated adding a rich character that fills the State theatre, ensuring you can’t mistake it for a concert. The chandelier, well its best left to experience rather than description, but in true Phantom form it comes screaming down from the ceiling. 

Finally, Phantom of the Opera’s music by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is what audiences love. The 27-piece orchestra brings the wonderful score to life. Melbourne’s State Theatre is arguably the best place to hear it. It doesn’t get any better than this full orchestra taking flight as the chandelier rises and the overture kicks into full swing. 

Opera Australia’s The Phantom of the Opera is the boldest, most stunning production of the musical yet. This night of music was indeed incredibly special. 

The Phantom of the Opera is playing at the Melbourne Arts Centre from 3 November to 5 February. Tickets Arts Centre Melbourne

Photo credit: Daniel Boud

Opera Australia and John Frost Present MY FAIR LADY

Lush, lovely and loyal revival

By Bradley Storer

Rapturous strings and a painted scrim of the Thames welcomed the audience into the world of Edwardian-era London on the Melbourne opening night at My Fair Lady. This production under the direction of the original Eliza Doolittle, Dame Julie Andrews herself, hums with vitality, and with sets and costumes modelled on the original Broadway production (by Oliver Smith and Cecil Beaton respectively) one can feel the wonder the show must have provoked in the audience of yesterday, the Ascot Gavotte a particular moment of sheer visual loveliness.

My Fair Lady Photo by Jeff Busby.jpg

Anna O’Byrne is perfectly cast as Eliza. Her silvery soprano handled the score with ease, deploying Eliza’s feistiness and vulnerability in equal measure, and winning the audience’s heart in all her iconic numbers – but especially in the giddy and rapturous ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’. Her standing ovation at the end of the night was well-earned.

Charles Edwards manages to find the heart and humanity in the often reprehensible Henry Higgins, but doesn’t shy away from his acid tongue or biting wit in ‘Why Can’t The English?’ and ‘Hymn to Him’, managing to adroitly combine the ‘talk-singing’ style of the originator Rex Harrison with moments of understated lyrical voice to create a more individualised interpretation.

As Higgins’ closest confidante, Colonel Pickering, Tony Llewellyn-Jones is charmingly hilarious in the duo’s back and forth and in his own small moments onstage. Robyn Nevin as Mrs Higgins steals the show effortlessly with just a few lines, subtly suggesting where Henry has inherited his quick wit and turn of phrase from.

The scene-stealing role of Alfred P. Doolittle is here played by Reg Livermore, who places his own stamp upon the part and nails the cheeky paean to laziness ‘With a Little Bit of Luck’. As the lovesick Freddy, Mark Vincent has a lush and easy vocal tone, delivering a lovely ‘On the Street Where You Live’. The ensemble are fantastic throughout, bringing superb energy and vivacity to their characters and shining in Christopher Gattelli‘s choreography for ‘I’m Getting Married in the Morning’.

There has been critical discussion over whether certain elements and the ending of the musical should have been changed for this new production, and indeed on opening night there were moments where the blatant misogyny of Higgins drew audible gasps from the audience – since this has been staged as a recreation of the original 1956 production, I felt that trying to sanitise the darker undertones of the show that are more apparent to society today would be dishonest. It is doubtful the work can ever be described as ‘feminist’, since the musical seems to be more actually focused on Higgins’ journey than Eliza’s and concerns itself more with the effects of the class system rather than gender, but by refusing to soften the sheer awfulness of Higgins’ character it can be argued the production maintains a measure of integrity, even as it is slightly baffling why the newly self-empowered Eliza would choose to return to him.

Overall, a charming and beautiful revisitation of a classic sure to delight any audience!

Dates: May 16th – July 27th (Melbourne)

Times: WednesdaySaturday 7:30pm, Tuesday 1pm, Wednesday 1pm, Sunday 3pm

Venue: Regent Theatre, 191 Collins St, Melbourne

Bookings: Ticketmaster.com.au or the venue box office

Image by Jeff Busby