It is heartening to report that the Opera School at the Conservatorium is in good voice and demonstrates a few other performance talents too.
The Fairy Queen by Purcell is characterised as a semi-opera: a series of masques that took place between acts of a version of Midsummer’s Night Dream. It focuses on the fantasy and dreamlike aspects of the play rather than the human drama, both of highborn and lowborn. It is, however, really a stand-alone piece, not merely an elaborate ornament to the play.
One of the stars of the show is designer Isabella Andronos
The production captures the masque quality of the opera superbly. The choreography moves the fantasy characters around with a ballet-like formality. This is enhanced by beautiful costumes set against a serviceable stage design suitable for the small space. The designer Isabella Andronos is in some ways the star of the show. The women are elegant, the men quite dandified. Only the two humans are in day-to-day dress and move and act in naturalistic manner in contrast to the mostly studied formality of the fantasy characters.
High standard singing with suitable variations
So what of the singing? Of a high standard indeed with variations suitable to the characters! Soprano Imogen Malfitanas as Titiana establishes the mood of the play with movement and very attractive singing. Lovely work is done by sopranos Jessie Wilson, Camilla Wright and Jing Lee respectively as the Night, Autumn and Spring and by mezzo Sarah Kemeny as Summer. Of the men, tenors Thomas Marshall as Phoebus and Chris Bryg Oberon, bring more than appropriate shine to their roles, both visually and musically. The ‘no kissing’ dialogue between baritone Tristan Entwistle as the Drunken Poet and mezzo Barbara Jin as Mopsa is quite delicious. Ms Jin has impeccable diction, most suitable for a piece sung in English and a very flexible voice suitable for a variety of singing genres. All the Purcell ‘hit tunes’ were done well. The chorus was not seen. It was constituted by those off stage at any given time and demonstrated the ensemble capacity and versatility of the whole group.
Informed musical context from The Early Music Ensemble
The Early Music Ensemble of the Conservatorium provided an informed musical context for the whole production, even if the audience started to chat before the end of the final piece of the orchestra. It unintentionally emphasised how interdependent are the singers and the instrumentalists.
A wide range of performance skills
Where the various members of ensemble will end up in their careers will be revealed in time. A number of chamber opera groups have emerged providing opportunities outside of Opera Australia. Some will go overseas where there is greater opportunity, but far more competition.
This production demonstrates a wide range of performance skills needed by opera singers. The stand and deliver days are well truly ended. I enjoyed this production that, above all, ensured that the greatness of Purcell’s music was realised in full measure.
Con Opera: Fairy Queen | Henry Purcell | Saturday 14 May 2016 | Music Workshop, Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Photo Credit – Prudence Upton