Raye Freedman Arts Centre, Gillies Avenue (Cnr Silver Road) Epsom, Auckland

16/12/2015 - 17/12/2015

Production Details

‘Come see the sights and share delights’  

NZ composer Philip Norman’s magical family opera  

Join us on the adventures of the miserly Scrooge, faithful Bob Cratchit, the spooky Marley, poor Tiny Tim, the marvellous ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet-to-Come, the Fezziwig’s party, the Cratchit family and more…fully costumed, semi-staged and set in cockney Bow of London in the mid 1800’s this production will be a fabulous way to celebrate the end of the year.

A heart-warming tale, with wonderful music, and a stellar cast of principals and emerging talent of all ages, this is a show not to be missed! Two performances only.

Raye Freedman Arts Centre, Epsom
Wednesday 16th or Thursday 17th December 7.30pm 
BOOK at www.iTICKET.co.nz ph 09 361 1000
Amici Friends $35, Adults $45, Seniors $40, Student/Child $20/$15
10% discount for groups of 6 or more (in the same order)
EARLY BIRD 10% discount if booked/paid by 30 November
Amici/Angeli members may book direct with Opera Factory
(no booking fee) admin@operafactory.com or Ph 09 9217801

Theatre , Opera ,

Blessings to all

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 18th Dec 2015

If Charles Dickens were alive today and living in Aotearoa New Zealand he’d be blogging about social justice, child poverty, neoliberalism and educational reform just as he did in his heyday in England in the early 19th century. He was, after said and done, a social commentator and a reformer. He’d probably have a ponytail-pulling protagonist who makes rape jokes, attacks civil liberties, blames the poor for their own plight and then departs to celebrate his own golfing Christmas at his second home in Hawaii. Not much hope of a Scrooge-like epiphany there. 

Nice work if you can get it, of course, but, as Dickens would remind us, there are families by the thousands in good old Godzone who won’t find it easy to feed themselves this festive season or even to see much hope for the future for themselves and their families. 

Dickens, the social commentator, has his traditional themes embedded at the heart of his novella but they’ve been watered down a bit over the years and, just as The Nutcracker has become a sweet little story for Christmas rather than a scary first appointment with puberty, so the dark messages of A Christmas Carol have been reduced to a nice festive tale of a cutesy old man finally coming to his senses. Both are much more than what they have become but, hey, that’s just how it is.

Philip Norman’s A Christmas Carol started out as the brainchild – it’s a big family – of Southern Ballet’s director and choreographer Russell Kerr and morphed into an opera at the suggestion of Angela Gorton from Canterbury Opera. I had the pleasure of attending both opening nights and the pleasure continues with Opera Factory’s 2015 production which is a sweet-natured and beautifully presented as it could possibly be.

I’m no expert when it comes to music, let’s be absolutely clear about that, but there are features of Sally Sloman’s production that really stand out. First, I hear every word. The intelligence of the singers and their insistence on carrying Norman’s narrative, even when it means playing essentially ‘out front’, is to be applauded. There is a commitment to what the composer has created and the director’s vision that unifies the big cast and allows the principals to shine. They’re splendidly supported by conductor Claire Caldwell and her two keyboard artists Evans Chuang and Megan Quatermass. 

In the critical role of Ebenezer Scrooge, Aidan Gill is a standout. It’s a complex role because, while it’s Scrooge’s journey that we concentrate on, the performer doesn’t do much more than link the scenes once Jacob Marley (a splendid Edward McKnight) exits, along with his team of spectres, back to whatever level of hell he has graduated to.

Gill evolves nicely and his transformation is credible despite Norman’s narrative denying him the wonderful opportunities for exposition inherent in Dickens’ Fifth Stave – the trick he plays on Bob Cratchit, the apology to his nephew Fred and his family and the lovely scene with the boy and the turkey.

We’re also, in this version, denied a final “God bless us, every one” from Tiny Tim (the delicious Lukas Maher) which seems a bit of a shame but, there it is.

Other cracker performances are delivered by Rosemarie Brown as the charity collector, Oliver Mitchell as Bob Cratchit himself, Kelly Harris as Scrooge’s paramour Belle, and the Fezziwigs (Mark Covich and Rosalind Quatermass).

The three ‘ghosts of Christmas – Past, Present and, in this version, Future (Dickens named this fellow ‘the ghost of Christmas yet to come’ which is quite a different thing altogether) – are all excellent conceptions. Leila Alexander is a delightful ghost of Christmas Past, quite different from the illustrations in Dickens’ original but most satisfying all the same. Mark Covich as the ghost of Christmas Present is far more in line with Dickens’ vision and drives the work forward, and Emma Sloman is an ethereal and chilling ghost of Christmas Future. The text they sing is clear and each moves with the freedom and ease of trained dancers which I always see as a bonus for any performer. 

Philip Norman’s 1993 programme suggests that we ‘come see the sights and share delights, of present Christmas fashion. And on our way, who knows, we may awaken your compassions.’ I hope so. The intent is there, but leaving the theatre awash with the warm buzz generated by Sally Sloman’s most enjoyable production, it doesn’t take long to be drawn back into the morass of a society that is increasingly rough on its most vulnerable citizens and seemingly cares less and less about them.

Dickens’ (and Norman’s) plea for compassion should penetrate every psyche in the country (and of those holidaying outside of it) and we can only do more than our best and hope for epiphany for those who could most easily make a difference. Until then, it’s down to Tiny Tim (who does survive, certainly in all our hearts) to have the final words: “God (whoever your God may be) bless us, every one.” 


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