Menu Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher

About As Good As It Gets [May 2]

So often i go to an opera and come away feeling underwhelmed. There’s usually something about the production that’s just not quite good enough to allow me to relax and fully enjoy it. But this week i saw something so good, i almost forgot i was at the opera. OA’s production of Richard Strauss’ ‘Arabella‘ is an unmitigated pleasure from start to finish. You have to love Strauss – that late Romantic lushness, that passion for soaring female voices entwined in rapidly modulating harmonies – and i do. So it was only a question of whether the voices would be full and warm enough to carry it off, and whether the acting would be convincing enough to allow the alternating comedy and the tragedy to drag you from laughter to tears in the space of a few bars They were.

A quick synopsis – Arabella’s father is a compulsive gambler, the family’s finances are dwindling rapidly, and he needs to ‘sell’ his beautiful daughter off to the highest bidder in order to avoid destitution. Arabella’s little sister Zdenka has been cross-dressing all her life, because the family can’t afford the cost of bringing two daughters out into Viennese society. Zdenkas fancies Arabella’s suitor Matteo, but is trying to be a good girl and sell her sister to him by writing him love-letters supposedly by Arabella. Enter the tall dark handsome WEALTHY stranger Mandryka. There’s a Viennese ball, there’s a case of mistaken idenity, there’s some late night hanky-panky, and it’s all resolved by the sensuous quaffing of a large glass of water. There’s a dash of proto-feminism in amongst the romantic folly – i reckon Zdenka rather enjoys wearing those trousers – and the cast was about as strong as it gets for an OA production – Cheryl Barker, Peter Coleman-Wright, Kanen Breen, Emma Matthews, Milijana Nikolic, Richard Roberts, and a wonderfully comic Conal Coad. It’s on until May 9th – see it if you can.

The week before i saw OA’s production of ‘Carmen‘ – some underwhelming performances (like i said…) but the set was great (i almost believed there was a bull-ring behind that big red wall) and fortunately Pamela Helen Stephen was a sexy Carmen with a huge expressive voice. Hard to believe such a powerful sound could come from such a diminutive woman, but she carried the night.

At The Toff In Town in Swanston St, local lyric soprano Vanessa West presented the latest incarnation of her one-woman show ‘Puccini’s Women‘ last Sunday afternoon. Just who were the damsels who inspired Tosca, Mimi, Musetta, and all those other memorable but mostly doomed operatic heroines of Signor Puccini? See this show on Sunday 4th May and you’ll find out.

And for sheer entertainment, there’s the MTC’s production of ‘The 39 Steps‘, a sweet theatrical piss-take of the conventions of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. Four actors play over 100 characters (there’s a lot of hat-swapping) and Marcus Graham seems to relish his role as the devilishly handsome but hapless romantic lead who is led astray by a femme fatale. Just not sure whether our tax-payer dollars should be sponsoring something as light and entertaining as this. Whatever happened to the commercial theatre sector?