OPERA - OTHER COMPOSERS - KALMAN
Australia justifies its second production in eleven years of Emmerich
Kalman’s 1915 operetta, The
Gypsy Princess, as ‘artistically and financially very important’
to the company’s future. Operettas will pay only if they appeal, which
is doubtful in the case of The
Gypsy Princess given the discriminating applause on opening night.
And by all means, lets enjoy the frivolities of Strauss’s The
Gypsy Baron rather than the fake profundities of the current Il
production team, led by the company’s Artistic Administrator, Stephen
Maunder, failed to surmount the musical and dramatic flaws in The
Gypsy Princess by not being able to make up their mind about the
tenor of the work. Is it all froth, or is there a message lurking in the
military and class twists in the plot? Even the costumes were a muddle
of high couture and low comedy. Maunder claims to be serving up ‘the
theatrical equivalent of vintage champagne’ but passed off the Porphry
there are no laughs until after interval, the first act is risible, with
music hall lyrics such as ‘The ladies, the ladies, the ladies of the
chorus’ set to a beat which could not set feet tapping. The solitary
pleasure came with ‘Girls are essential for love’.
trouble is that the songs never progress the action yet are too much
alike each other to be ‘numbers’, let alone showstoppers. A
perceptive production would have inserted a song from another operetta
to give the audience what we were dying for, namely, the wickedness of
Heather Begg’s basso profundo.
sets mimic the lacquer of the Viennese Secession, a choice as
predictable as the rest of the staging proved ponderous. The gilded
columns crowded the cast towards the apron, leaving too little space for
dancing. The chandelier has to rise and fall more often than the curtain
so that the revolve can operate.
clutter hardly mattered because the principals were given so little to
do. One attempt at a chorus line creaked its way out of a ‘knees
bend’ that would have been a credit to a concert party in a retirement
village. The evening needs more stage business to distract from the
banalities of the book and the flatness of the score.
bright and shining star was Angus Wood, a Romantic baritone whose
attainments remind us that we do not have a resident tenor to match even
one of his galaxy of talents. Mr Wood has the vim and dashing looks to
be a matinee idol. And he can truly dance. His entrancing and flexible
voice benefits from exact articulation and effortless projection. He has
previously appealed as Papageno in The
Magic Flute and in the title role in Pelleas
and Melisande. His stagecraft is convincing even when he is hamming.
Was the collapsing telephone a rehearsed routine, or his rapid reaction
time? Either way, his handling was perfection. What a woeful night it
would have been without him. Given an entire playbill with his
capacities, the Kalman might have been restored to life. Instead, those
with tickets for the second cast, which includes Wood, won’t be
missing anything on stage.
Kenny in the title role was too staid, dramatically and vocally, to
portray an Hungarian cabaret star, falling short of fire in both love
and hate. Kenny looks uncomfortable moving and singing at the same time,
and even more awkward when trying to kick over the traces. Her technical
accomplishments as a prima donna
tripped her attempt at the vocal fripperies.
Ewer made the mistake of aiming at a middle-European accent which he had
the wit to drop, though he continued to fall short of his reputation as
a comic tenor. The problem was indecisiveness about how to play the
sadder but wiser roue, an uncertainty which accentuated the reediness
spreading through his voice.
Mathews proved sprightly but, compared with her recent triumphs, sounded
Swedish conductor Ola Rudner brought out the ornaments in the score,
heightening expectations for his coming performances of Cosi
fan tutte, and for the announcement of a continuing position for him
in Australia. He got the details of Kalman’s orchestration to float
out of the Opera House pit that lesser maestros merely moan about.