Wednesday, 16 September 2015

All that glitters (Handa Opera/Aida)

Verdi, Aida (Castles-Onion, cond.  Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra).
A friend tells a favourite story about waiting in the Sydney Opera box office queue, and hearing the response to an enquiry about dress code, to be told that 'well, we prefer shoes'. If the audience can come very much dressed down, it is hard to conceive of a more dressed-up performance that that from Handa Opera last night recorded for cinemas. Opera Australia broadcast Aida from Sydney Harbour to cinemas last night, and I  have to scratch my head as to why they thought it was a good idea to expose their singers thus. The short version of it is this: the spectacle of staging on the Harbour is clearly leading the whole thing. I can’t communicate to you just how much gold and glitter there was. So camp was it, that even Liberace would have found it de trop. The most moving moment in the first half was the carrying of a few dozen black coffins (shiny, natch), as part of the Triumphal March. Almost every male chorus member, actor, was dressed in some kind of cod-piece, and often either breast plate or rubberised costume; in some cases both. The start was promising with warmongers dressed as blinged-up sort-of-Nazis. In contradistinction to the blandness of the authoritarian baddies in Poliuto at Glyndebourne, pirated-typed skull-and-crossbones badge dodged the bullet. Overall it had a graphic effect of Behind the Candelabra  meets Indiana Jones, with more than a smidge of Carry On. The big head revolved to show a blue and gold throne with King sitting in the middle of it– all very King Tut, but just too, too much. And it was glam for its own sake. So much sparkle I feared my eyes might bleed.
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So much glitter, but no explanation of the oil drums was every apparent.
Opera Australia's Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour – Aida.
Photo credit: Hamilton Lund
After the interval, things calmed down: presumably no more sequins could be had in Sydney – not even for ready money. In pale blue light (Matt Scott) the intensity was built up somewhat. Yet the tomb in which the lovers are buried alive, gave out so much bright lights shining up in to the harbour, the audience had to wonder if they were they bound for death or Broadway. Cinematography was often naïve – fading over more than one image of the same thing – close up and panned out at once, blurred the lines and added yet more gold and spangle. At other times, however, the tendency to pan out just a bit meant less inspection of dental work, and a better sense of things, which was to be commended.
Gale Edwards, responsible for the madness which had just been shown (alongside Mark Thompson (design)), in the interval announced it was all for modern resonances; but this was a strangely ahistorical reading of the opera. In 1871 comment on nationhood in Italian opera, especially if anything to do with VERDI in Italy was a given.
This fiasco was scheduled for 26 performances, yet this felt under rehearsed: movement was rarely tight or in unison, and if you are going for spectacle, that is a serious problem.
The singing was mediocre; this was not designed for HD relay but belting out in the harbour for something different to do in Sydney. Best was Latonia Moore (Aida) yet by the end her technique seemed less than classical – was this Pop Idol or something? Amonasro (Michel Honeyman) was also worthy of some mention – alas his part was not that major. 
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The best of the bunch.
Latonia Moore as Aida in Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour — Aida.
Photo credit: Prudence Upton.
The orchestra – hidden away in the bowels of the floating stage like rowers in some Greek boat gave an account of the score which seemed to lack power, oomph or bass, to the extent I wondered if the technical side was suffering either in the filming or reproduction. The Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra was under Brian Castles-Onion’s baton to do such an underwhelming job of one ofVerdi’s most wonderful operas, tender and thundering by turns. 
Overall: come for spectacle if you must, but not for opera. 
     
AIDA - Latonia Moore
RADAMÈS- Walter Fraccaro
AMNERIS - Milijana Nikolic
AMONASRO     Michael Honeyman
RAMFIS     David Parkin
THE KING     Gennadi Dubinsky
HIGH PRIESTESS     Eva Kong
MESSENGER     Benjamin Rasheed
Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra
Opera Australia Chorus
CONDUCTOR - Brian Castles-Onion
DIRECTOR - Gale Edwards
SET & COSTUME DESIGNER - Mark Thompson
LIGHTING DESIGNER - Matt Scott
SOUND DESIGNER - Tony David Cray
CHOREOGRAPHER     Lucas Jervies
SITE DESIGNER     Eamon D'Arcy
ASSISTANT DIRECTORS Andy Morton and Kate Gaul

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