Gentle Death, I embrace you

1.urbainIt’s 1990 and Dame Joan Sutherland is retiring.  Australian Opera decide to stage Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots as a farewell gala.  In some ways it’s an odd choice as the Sutherland character, Marguerite de Valois, only appears in two of the five acts of an opera that’s rather long despite cuts.  Still, as a vehicle for an ageing coloratura it’s not a bad choice.  The production is by Lotfi Mansouri so there is nothing to get in the way of the plot and, by the same token, nothing much to think about.  It’s also, equally characteristically, quite dark in places.  Everything then rests on the performances.  Continue reading

The Turn of the Screw – Perth 1991

The DVD of Opera Australia’s production of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw is a train wreck. I’m not sure how much of the problem is due to the stage production and how much to the treatment for DVD but the end result is horrible. It’s almost impossible to comment on Neil Armfield’s production because one can’t tell when one is seeing it and when it’s being overlaid or perhaps even replaced by some conceit of the video director. The overall effect is completely incoherent. The barely TV quality picture doesn’t help things.

Musically it’s not good either. The singing is, at best, patchy. The children (Lanneke Jones as Flora and Patrick Littlemore as Miles) do fine and the ghostly pair; Anson Austin and Wendy Dixon, are adequate without being terribly otherworldly. The real problem lies with the Governess of Eilene Hannan and the Mrs. Grose of Margaret Haggart. Both are squally when loud and tending to drop into speech when quieter. Their duets are really hard on the ears. David Stanhope conducts the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. It’s not pretty. This score is hugely rhythmically inventive and the rhythm should drive the thing along. This reading is rhythmic mush. Again, nobody is helped by the recording. The quality of the Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is poor. It’s unfocussed and muddy adding to the overall lack of definition.

If you’ve got this far you probably won’t care that there are no subtitles and the only documentation is a chapter listing. There isn’t even a cast list.