Christina Henson is nothing if not versatile, having trained in both opera and medicine, and she produced a show to wake up sleepy Avoca on a Friday night. Avoca Beach Theatre is a beautifully situated Boutique Picture House and plans for it to be replaced by a multiplex will hopefully be shelved.
The show was titled “Outlaw Opera”, with the title indicating that all the operatic interludes were based on nefarious characters, although this would apply to most operas in the repertoire!
The worst came first – the worst villain, I mean! A Shakespearean critic stated that “Evil has nowhere else been portrayed with such mastery as in the character of Iago“. Others portray him as the ultimate psychopath. In the aria “Credo in un Dio crudel – I believe in a cruel God”, Iago expresses his nihilistic beliefs and how he plans to destroy the bond between Othello and Desdemona. The Baritone role was sung with deep expression by Eugene Raggio, with Alan Hicks on the piano set in a bathhouse with a beautiful backdrop, it was a moving introduction to the programme.
Macbeth is another Shakespearean Opera by Giuseppe Verdi. Livia Brash, Soprano has sung in the USA and Germany and has won several awards. As Lady Macbeth, she sang “Vieni L’ Affretta!” in which she shows the ruthless ambition she has for her husband following a prophecy from the three witches. Livia both sang and looked the part and it’s no surprise that Macbeth was driven to succeed.
Bizet’s Carmen was probably the best known of the featured operas and Seguidilla, literally a small dance in triple time, is particularly familiar. Carmen, having been arrested for assaulting a co-worker in a cigarette factory tries to seduce Don Juan into accompanying her to a friend’s Inn. Beautiful dancing and singing from Angelique Tot, Mezzo-Soprano and acting from Caleb Son who comes to his own in the flower aria which follows, where the tenor professes his undying love for Carmen although the relationship is fatally doomed. Great interaction between the two artists and thoroughly enjoyable.
Lucia Di Lammermoor is probably best known as Dame Joan Sutherland’ most famous role. Here we heard “Regnava nel silenzio” in which Donizetti’s title character tells her maid of a murder that took place at the fountain and how she still sees the victim’s ghost. Ashlee Woodgate, who has sung In Magic Flute at Carnegie Hall, sang the soprano role against a clever backdrop in which the ghost arose from the fountain before vanishing into the ether. Caleb Son, as Eduardo, joins her for an emotive duet, in which he tells Lucia that he is leaving for France. The face of evil was so prominent that one had to watch one’s back in the interval.
Puccini’ Tosca is perhaps not so much renowned for evil as for its Machiavellian intrigue. Livia Brash, Eugene Raggio and Caleb Son were joined by guests James Doig, Baritone and Mariana Pogosyan, Soprano and we were treated to the whole of Act II Scene II in which Romulus and Remus looked over Rome representing the two invading powers, Napoleonic France and the Bourbons of Naples. The singing is cleverly interwoven into the plot in which Tosca, a singer, is in love with Caverdossi, a painter, who is in jail for harbouring a traitor. Scarpia, the chief of police says that he will only release him (You can hear his tortured cries offstage) if she yields to his lustful desires. Amid much coming and going, she finally agrees to Scarpia’s terms but, during their first embrace, fatally stabs him. Included are Tosca’s aria, “Ha piu forte sapore” and “Vissi d’arte”
This act requires adept acting as well as singing with no spoken words, and demands a lot of the accompanist, who never faltered. The company carried this off in spades and to a great reception. This live production was a significant venture for Avoca Theatre and I advise anyone who can to go to the repeat performance on Friday.