Tag Archives: Libretto

English Eccentrics: an Operatic Entertainment (Malcolm Williamson)


Libretto: Geoffrey Dunn, based on the book by Edith Sitwell



WAAPA classical, vocal and music students



Roundhouse Theatre, WAAPA

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Few English writers have been as astute and convincing in writing about eccentricity as the remarkable Edith Sitwell whose own oddness certainly qualified her for the role.


Perhaps because she herself lived so improbable a life, her chronicles of absurd behaviour have the ring of truth.  And Australian-born Malcolm Williamson, clearly inspired by Sitwell’s catalogue of the bizarre behaviour of others, wrote a score that splendidly complements Geoffrey Dunn’s libretto based on the Sitwell book..


In a work such as this, the text is pivotal to an appreciation of the opera. Absolute clarity of pronunciation is crucial in a libretto beautifully constructed to introduce the opera-goer to an extraordinary pageant of very strange people who range from the engagingly daft to the barking mad.


The work unfolds with impressively smooth momentum.  On this point, the production scored impressively; there was about the performance a fluency, indeed buoyancy, which made experiencing this work so agreeable. And deployment of often large numbers of performers onstage at any one time – with players descending a staircase here or processing or recessing between  stage and foyer  there –  made this production a fascinating way to pass an afternoon.


But diction was often unclear – and in a work such as this where distinct articulation  of words is of pivotal importance, this was an irritating, indeed maddening, drawback. Perhaps this could have been avoided by flashing the texts onto screens at opposite sides of the stage as is often done when operas are sung in foreign languages.


Some of the singers, though, sang with impressively clear diction, not least Paul-Anthony Keightly as Philip Thicknesse. This was a delight, with Keightly producing a stream of mellow, finely pitched sound with every word as clearly stated  as one could ever have wished it to be. Matthew Reardon’s diction, too, was beyond reproach – and Elena Perroni was a delightfully over-the-top Princess Caraboo. Clint Strindberg did well as Beau Brummell. But the diction of a vocal quartet, rather like a Greek chorus with crazy hairdos, needed much greater clarity.


Bobbi-Jo’s costume designs were a delight. Eleanor Garnett’s lighting design was consistently effective.


David Wickham presided over events  from the piano,  coaxing splendid responses from his forces and negotiating the often cruelly demanding piano part with unassuming virtuosity.  A small instrumental ensemble was much on its mettle, not least Chris Dragon (clarinet) and Hannah Gladstones (bassios pianooon).





Orpheus in the Underworld (Offenbach)

Jane Davidson

Jane Davidson

Daniel Sinfield



Dolphin Theatre



reviewed by Neville Cohn





Half a loaf is better than none, as the old saw goes. And experiencing Offenbach’s zany Orpheus in the Underworld to an accompaniment not by orchestra but a single piano might not have been ideal – but it was certainly better than nothing in this part of the world where Offenbach’s work seldom gets the exposure it warrants.


With the lightest of directorial touches, Jane Davidson brought this comic opera to sparkling life. Certainly, her young charges seemed positively to relish coming to grips with this much vaunted although seldom mounted work locally.


It was an inspiration to use an English version of the libretto by Jonathan Biggins, Phil Scott and Ignatius Jones. With its many witty Oz allusions, it prompted gales of laughter from a capacity audience.


Kathleen How as Public Opinion, dressed up as Moonee Ponds’ most distinguished representative, brought the house down again and again. Here was a Dame Edna Everage clone at her most vivacious and effervescent with her mauve-pink hair do, trademark bunch of fake gladioli and those unforgettably tasteful spectacles, all ensuring the laughter level was high.


On the debit side were a number of singers whose pitch was not quite spot-on but, time and again, the sheer vivacity with which they tackled their roles went quite some way as compensation. And this cheerful energy, not least in the galop finale, ensured a constant chuckle level. And allusions to that most recognisable of Gluck melodies – Che faro senza Euridice – were consistently musical.


Laurels to Daniel Sinfield who seemed positively to revel in the role of  Pluto disguised, not, as in Offenbach’s original as a shepherd cum beekeeper but as a black-clad tough on a motorbike, singing and strutting about the stage as if it was his natural milieu. His diction was first rate.


In a smaller role, Dudley Allitt was altogether convincing as the Hades-based, creepy John Styx. With a sepulchral pallor and his hands unctuously clasping and unclasping, he did Offenbach proud – not least for absolutely first rate diction, an object lesson on how to project speech impeccably.   


A thousand flowers, as the Chinese say, to Juliet Faulkner who breathed life into a piano reduction of the orchestral score. Surely, she deserved better than being labelled in the printed program solely as repetiteur. The latter would certainly apply to her work as rehearsal pianist – but on stage, she was a pivotal participant in the production.


Standing to one side of the stage close to the piano while giving discreet cues to the cast was music director Francis Greep.


Décor was basic but effective as was the lighting design by Jake Newby – and the splendid costumes were designed and made by the cast.