Tag Archives: His Majesty’s Theatre

L’Elisir d’Amore (Donizetti)


W.A.Opera Company and Chorus

W.A.Symphony Orchestra

His Majesty’s Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn


In more than half a century of attending opera productions here and abroad, I cannot  recall so frankly delightful a production of Donizetti’s comic masterpiece. What, I wonder, would the composer have thought of his opera being set in the Australian outback during WW1 with the male chorus on horseback kitted out as cavalry?


Simon Phillips has done wonders with the work, underscoring its comic dimension to a gratifying degree and giving the opera as a whole a freshness of conception in visual terms that clearly – and understandably – delighted a capacity audience.


It scores high on the ‘zany’ gauge. Horses are made of what looks like cut-out corrugated cardboard. The same goes for dogs and sheep. And sets are the perfect backdrop for on-stage comedy in an outback setting.


It was an inspiration to cast Rachelle Durkin and Aldo di Toro as the leads. Each was perfectly suited to the role in both vocal and theatrical terms. And as a duo, the operatic chemistry could hardly have been bettered. It sizzled.


Durkin has a priceless comic gift which, allied to a voice in top form, makes her an artist of formidable ability. She was in A1 form as Adina.  Aldo di Toro, too, was in splendid fettle, reaching for – and touching –  the stars. He is perfectly suited to the role of Nemorino.


Marco Nistico was a most convincing Dr Dulcamara, that shonkiest of snake-oil salesmen, a purveyor of  extremely dubious remedies for just about any ailment. And Jennifer Barrington was a delightful Gianetta. Laurels, too, to Jose Carbo who wsas in fine form as Belcore.


From the pit, Stuart Stratford presided over a reduced-size WASO. Tempi were almost invariably sensible and workable. Adam Mikulicz played, beautifully, the bassoon introduction to Una furtive lagrima, the singing of which quite rightly brought the house down..


Of the women’s chorus, this: the singing was delightful, the ladies seeming positively to embrace their roles, underscoring the comic dimension of the work with gusto. The male chorus did well, too.




Don Giovanni (Mozart)

W.A.Opera Company


His Majesty’s Theatre


reviewed by Neville Cohn


In recent years, there has been a remarkable flowering of vocal talent in Western Australia and evidence of this was glowingly apparent in a production of Mozart’s timeless masterpiece which opened to a capacity house for a short season on Tuesday.

A trio of young female singers brought more than a touch of distinction to a production that was as easy on the eye
as the ear.

Rachelle Durkin, with the benefit of experience recently gained in New York, improves with every appearance. Admirably secure at all points of the range – and producing a stream of finely pitched sound that projected effortlessly into the auditorium – this soprano gave incontrovertible evidence of dramatic ability which must surely silence those doubters who, at one time or another, have suggested that Durkin is largely limited to comic roles.

True, she has a marked affinity for comedy but it became abundantly clear in her performance as Donna Anna that Durkin has the ability to adapt chameleon-like to the subtle darkness of the role of a woman profoundly wronged by the caddish Don. Her burning desire for vengeance – the Don has killed her father in a duel heavily weighted in favour of the appalling philanderer – was most impressively conveyed in an in-depth portrayal that augurs well for a career in one of music’s most toughly competitive areas.

Durkin was a sumptuously gowned figure as was Caitlin Hulcup, as Donna Elvira, a vision in scarlet as she made her first entrance alighting from a sedan chair. I cannot recall hearing this young mezzo soprano to better advantage. Her astonishment that metamorphoses to fury as the Don’s modus operandi as a human tomcat on heat becomes apparent was as convincing as her steadily increasing vocal control. She, too, brought strong stage presence to the production.

As well, soprano Penelope Reynolds, who scored a great success earlier this year as Papagena at an open air performance of The Magic Flute, did well as Zerlina, the simple country maiden torn between her love for Masetto (Peter Axford) and the difficult-to-resist charms of the wily Don.

Nothing so emphasises the worth of the WAOC’s Young Artist Programme as the quality, in this production, of up-and-coming singers who have taken part in the Programme.

From his first entrance, sans trousers, as he climbs a ladder to get into Donna Anna’s bedroom, Douglas McNicol was the Don to a ‘t’. Lecherous, constantly on the make, callously indifferent to anyone’s feelings other than his own, McNicol conveyed all these characteristics through a gesture here, a knowing, come-hither smile there, as well as a voice that impressed at every turn.

As the long suffering Leporello, the Don’s hapless manservant, Conal Coad milked the role for most of its comic potential, notably in the famous ‘catalogue aria’ which he seemed positively to relish singing. In the famous aria where Leporello lists his master’s innumerable conquests, Coad was in excellent fettle as were the rushing strings of the accompanying orchestra.

There was some first rate ensemble singing: La ci darem la mano, that most famous of Mozartean duets, was touchingly essayed by Penelope Reynolds and McNicol – and there was more agreeable ensemble singing later in Protegga, il giusto cielo. Here, Anna, Elvira and Don Ottavio call for divine help to bring the lecherous Don Giovanni to book. Ottavio was sung with care and pleasing tone by Paul O’Neill.

On-stage action was finely lit by Nigel Levings.

Harpsichord accompaniments to the recitatives were a consistently stylish offering from Marilyn Phillips.

Simon Kenway presided over a reduced W.A. Symphony Orchestra which, for the most part, played with a will in the pit of HMT. Occasionally, though, synchronisation between orchestra and singers was less than ideal.

This Don Giovanni was made the more engrossing due to the skill with which director Julie Edwardson has contrasted the darker and the comic dimensions of the opera. It is an unusually well balanced production – and all the more satisfying for that. Bravo!

© 2005

FAUST (Gounod) W.A.Opera Company and Chorus W.A.Symphony Orchestra

FAUST (Gounod)

W.A.Opera Company and Chorus
W.A.Symphony Orchestra
His Majesty’s Theatre


reviewed by Neville Cohn 



What elevates this production of Gounod’s Faust to a special category of excellence is its unequivocal and powerful anti-war message. Of many presentations of Faust encountered over the decades, most of them significant in one way or another, not one – until now – has so effectively conveyed the madness of armed conflict. In every other production I’ve seen, the Soldiers’ Chorus scene, that most instantly recognisable of all Faust excerpts, has featured in an unambiguously celebratory way with flags fluttering, soldiers proudly marching and sweethearts and parents jovial, proud and smiling.

This has become an operatic cliché, that is to say, until this production which sweeps away this jingoistic hokum, a patently false notion of war as fun. Instead, we’re given a stunningly different dramatic statement. Here we see disfigured and dying soldiery, the maimed on crutches, some on stretchers, others pasty-faced, shell-shocked, blankly staring. It made for powerful viewing and listening (not that it’s ever likely to stop old men with too much power sending young men – and now women – to often pointless deaths).

Also memorable was that other crucial episode in which the devil reveals his Achilles heel, cowering as dark-clad choristers show him the sign of the cross as they sing the Chorale of the Swords.

Bruce Martin was a good choice as the Devil; he has cornered the local market insofar as diabolical types are concerned. And here, his sardonic, leering presence (with his improbable retinue of muscle men in Arabian Nights-style garb) could hardly be faulted.

Keith Lewis was unfailingly expressive in the eponymous role although occasionally his voice let him down with a cracked note her and there high on the register. But in visual terms, he appeared far too youthful in the opening scene. Faust, after all, is a very old man with fading libido, contemplating suicide, when he has his satanic encounter and, in what turns out to be a very poor bargain, sells his soul in return for youth and women.

In this production, though, he seemed, to begin with, little more than middle-aged, neither grey-haired nor balding as one would expect of someone nearing the end of life. And removing his spectacles for his transformtion did almost nothing to make him look any younger.

His scene in which Faust stabs Valentin, Marguerite’s brother, to death – his knife guided by the devil – came across powerfully, even more so because – in a rare departure from the norm – Siebel, too, is fatally knifed by Faust.

For much of the evening, Elisa Wilson, as Marguerite, shaped to the demands of her role like wine to a goblet. Sounding more vocally assured than I can readily recall in some time, she was, variously, modest, coquettish and – pregnant with Faust’s bastard child – deranged.

This latter incarnation, though vocally persuasive, bordered on melodrama, Marguerite’s pasty white face more appropriate for, say, a distressed heroine in some 1917-era silent movie; it was over the top. But there was compensation in her aria about the King of Thule; it was altogether pleasing.

And the descent to Hell, in a clinch, of Faust and Mephistopheles was, visually, a moment of such inconsequence as to almost entirely drain it of dramatic force. Unusually, the closing scene, traditionally set in a prison, was an insane asylum. And instead of Marguerite’s soul being seen to be borne aloft by angels, as Gounod envisaged it, we see her dying against a tableau of asylum inmates gesturing heavenwards and watched by two nuns who charmingly keep their charges under control by bashing them with wooden clubs.

There was some inspired casting in smaller roles. Fiona Campbell, unrecognisable as Siebel, the young man charged with protecting Marguerite, was, as ever, in glorious voice. (Why is this exceptional singer not heard in more substantial roles?). Also a delight was Sarah-Janet Dougiamas as Marguerite’s neighbour Marthe Schwerlein. Every note and gesture was here made meaningful; she, too, is a singer to watch. Mark Alderson as Wagner and Lucas de Jong as Valentin made the most of minor roles.

In this Olympic season, it was conductor Stephen Barlow who thoroughly deserved a laurel crown, drawing from a reduced W.A.Symphony Orchestra in the pit, some of the most persuasive accompaniments I can recall hearing at an opera at His Majesty’s Theatre. Strings sounded gratifyingly fine and oboist Joel Marangella and Alan Meyer (clarinet) provided outstanding contributions.

There were any number of imaginative directorial touches such as placing the chorus under umbrellas with what was presumably the pre-recorded sound of rain heard in the background. Dressing the chorus in dark blue or black was an inspiration, adding memorably to the brooding, oppressive nature of much of the opera. But most unusually for a WAOC production, the chorus was not always quite synchronised with the accompanying orchestra.

I admired Matthew Barclay’s choreography which, unlike most dance presentations in Faust, was cleverly woven into, rather than gratuitously imposed on, the action. Shane Collard, with clean line and strong presence, shows much promise.

John Gunter designed the sets, that of Act 1 – Faust’s study – cluttered with the detritus of a scholarly life, a place clearly foreign to any cleaning lady’s ministrations. Nigel Levings’ lighting design splendidly underscored the prevailing mood of the moment.

Copyright Neville Cohn 2004