Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

20/09/2015 - 20/09/2015

Christchurch Arts Festival 2015

Production Details

Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Greta Bradman and David Hobson PLUS Special Guest Dame Malvina Major present an evening of glamour, passion and romance featuring some of the greatest songs, arias and duets ever composed.

This unique concert features an exuberance of the great stage musicals, enriched with the power and passion of grand opera.

With the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra

The exuberance of the great stage musicals, with the power and passion of grand opera 

Sunday 20 September 7pm
Isaac Theatre Royal
Book 0800 TICKETEK (842 538)

Theatre , Opera , Musical ,

Strongest in solos and duets

Review by Naomi van den Broek 21st Sep 2015

The programme notes for this concert, written by creators Vanessa Scammell and Tyran Park, leave the audience in no doubt that this is to be an evening of favourites and the varied programme is of great delight to the crowd at the Isaac Theatre Royal. While the programme focuses on entertainment over art, each singer has their moment to shine and show their strengths.

While purists will no doubt disagree, it is a welcome relief to see the singers are amplified for this concert of opera and musical theatre classics. With the orchestra sharing the stage with them, it would have made for difficulties in hearing the singers if this had not been the case. However, I think amplifying the orchestra is overkill, and results in moments where the singers are well below the orchestra in terms of volume. There are also a number of ‘noises off’ which are quite distracting and could have been easily avoided with some closer attention paid to pulling mics down when performers are off stage. 

From Broadway to La Scala is staged simply with minimal props and some basic lighting state changes. The singers directly address each other, the audience and the orchestra which makes for a very entertaining and enjoyable experience. Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Greta Bradman and Dame Malvina Major make up for any sparseness of theatrical elements with a parade of rather stunning frocks! (MVP award for frock of the night goes to the copper sequined number Bradman finishes the evening in.) The singers are ably accompanied by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra who show no signs of fatigue after tackling the great romantics just the night before. 

Cantabrian Teddy Tahu Rhodes is a charismatic and commanding performer and the audience clearly enjoys welcoming him back to a hometown stage. His voice is strong, rich and lyrical which works exceptionally well in solo settings but sometimes overpowers the other performers. He is an easy performer who looks completely at home in this more informal setting, clearly enjoying chatting to both the audience and his fellow performers. I most enjoy his performance of ‘Toreador’ from Bizet’s Carmen.

Australian Tenor David Hobson has a very distinct timbre which is almost suggestive of a counter-tenor in places. He is the singer who most successfully commands the contrasting repertoire. I have no doubt his agent will be fielding calls from musical theatre as well as opera companies if his performance of ‘I’m Reviewing the Situation’ from Oliver! (Lionel Bart) is indicative of the breadth of his abilities. A natural actor, he has the audience in the palm of his hand as he interacts with CSO Concert Master, Martin Riseley, during Riseley’s beautiful obligato moments in this number. I also chuckle as he asks the audience “What happens when you’re 70… no really, what happens?” The predominately middle-age and older audience do too.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand admits to the audience that it’s hard sharing the stage with such accomplished singers, and while her voice is a little light and unfocused in comparison to the more operatic voices around her, she wins the audience over with her acting and interpretive skills which are amply showcased in numbers like ‘Broadway Baby’ (from Sondheim’s Follies) and ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ (from Rogers and Hart’s Pal Joey).

Crowd favourite of the night is Dame Malvina Major. She enters the stage to rapturous applause (only intensified by Teddy Tahu Rhodes’ welcome), telling the audience that this is to be her last professional engagement on a Christchurch stage. There is real a sense of occasion in the air as she performs an understated and almost melancholic rendition of ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ from Puccini’s short comic opera Gianni Schicchi.

The star of the night has to be Australian soprano Greta Bradman. In five short years as a professional, she has already amassed an impressive list of credits. She is a luminous performer with exceptional vocal control, beautifully contrasting colours and impressive dexterity. ‘Casta Diva’ from Bellini’s Norma is spell-binding, and while her voice doesn’t cross over well to the musical theatre numbers, she performs these with sensitivity, musicality and excellent acting chops. I hope that New Zealand Opera have the opportunity to cast her before her career becomes too stratospheric.

I feel the success of the programme is most apparent when it plays to the strengths of the individual performers and as a result my enjoyment rests most with the solo or duet numbers. Such contrasting voices and vocal styles don’t necessarily blend cohesively, and many of the group numbers are off balance and somewhat messy sounding as a result.

I dearly wish I had left before the bizarre encore, of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. This is apparently a tribute to Dame Malvina Major, which is baffling in terms of style and theme. It seems very un-rehearsed and neither the song nor the performers fare well in this awkward finale.


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