Good Angel, Bad Angel

Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

01/04/2008 - 04/04/2008

Production Details

Chilling and "powerfully dramatic", Lyell Cresswell’s one-act opera Good Angel, Bad Angel will receive its New Zealand premiere on Tuesday 1 April in Wellington.  This spooky NZ opera is performed by some of Wellington’s top up-and-coming vocal talent, and is supported by Creative NZ, the New Zealand Opera Society and the Emerging Artists Trust.

Based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, the opera follows the journey of a thief, Markheim, who, on Christmas Eve, wants to put his life of crime and violence behind him.  But old habits, and the intervention of a Visitant from beyond the grave, threaten to lead him back to his old ways…

The New Zealand premiere of Good Angel, Bad Angel promises a thrilling and tension-packed night out for newcomers to classical music and opera lovers alike.  On its debut performance in Edinburgh in 2005, critics said:

"With ‘Good Angel Bad Angel’, the Hebrides Ensemble have delivered a compelling argument to raise the profile of chamber opera, and the pairing of composer Lyell Cresswell with writer Ron Butlin was truly inspired. Butlin’s sparse libretto was finely judged and almost poetic in places, blending seamlessly with Cresswell’s equally taut score." – Susan Nickalls, The Scotsman, 26 May 2005

Rising star NZ bass-baritone Hadleigh Adams leads a cast of talented young singers – Wellingtonian Craig Beardsworth, and Frances Moore, finalist in the 2007 Lexus Songquest.

Artistic Director David Lawrence is best known for his work with the theatre troupe The Bacchanals; Good Angel, Bad Angel will be his first foray into directing opera.  Musical Director Catherine Norton is a former NBR NZ Opera Emerging Artists, and worked with NIMBY Opera on the NZ premiere of Trouble in Tahiti.

Wellington-born composer Lyell Cresswell has received many awards in his career as a freelance composer, including the APRA Silver Scroll for services to NZ music in 1979.  He was a finalist for the 2000 SOUNZ Contemporary Music Awards, and his works have been performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the NZSO and NZ String Quartet, and chamber ensemble 175 East.

NIMBY Opera presents short, innovative opera works to the NZ public, and aims to create performance and work opportunities for the top up-and-coming NZ opera talent, including singers, directors, technical crew and administrators.

Good Angel, Bad Angel will appear briefly for three performances in Wellington, before manifesting in Palmerston North and Auckland as part of the Kiwi Opera Festival.

1, 3, 4 April – Gryphon Theatre, Wellington, 7pm
6 April – Globe Theatre, Palmerston North, 6.30pm
11 April – The Opera Factory, Newmarket, Auckland, 7pm 

Check out for ticket bookings and more details.  

The North Island tour of ‘Good Angel, Bad Angel’ is proudly supported by Creative NZ, the New Zealand Opera Society, the Emerging Artists Trust and Johnston Lawrence Partners.  Tour vehicles provided by Pawkeys Rental Vehicles.

Producer – NIMBY Opera 

Hadleigh Adams
Craig Beardsworth
Frances Moore

Sayuri Ando, violin
Helen Bevin, viola
Paul Mitchell, cello
Tui Clarke, clarinets

Excellently crafted and performed intimate chamber opera

Review by Pepe Becker 02nd Apr 2008

I have only good things to say about this show. With absolute commitment and conviction on all counts, Good Angel, Bad Angel fulfills NIMBY Opera company’s goals: to present professional, accessible and innovative short opera works to the New Zealand public; to create work opportunities for the top and up-and-coming opera talent in Wellington; to provide a different artistic experience to the general public from the traditional ‘Grand Opera’ one; and to support and promote the work of New Zealand composers.

Its perfect combination of elements – music, libretto, performers, production and venue – gives the audience an experience every bit as satisfying as some of the best international acts have to offer.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story, ‘Markheim’, was an excellent choice for this sort of operatic adaptation. With only four main characters – an elderly jeweller, his daughter, the petty thief named Markheim and the ‘Visitant’) – the stark, conscience-searching plot lends itself to the kind of intimate setting afforded by the Gryphon theatre. Here, with singers only metres away from the front rows of seats, every nuance of facial expression and body movement is visible and immediate, and the audience can be involved and moved in a way that is not possible with larger scale works in larger venues.

The music of Lyell Cresswell is also ideal for the story and context. Right from the opening staccato strikes of the violin bow, depicting a ticking clock or a heartbeat, to the piercing scream of the clarinet at the point of death of the shopkeeper, the sounds we hear are all entirely in keeping with the emotional goings-on on stage. Like a good film score it both reflects and enhances the visual and vocal content, allowing the performance to flow with uninterrupted cohesion.

Conductor Justus Rozemond leads the small instrumental ensemble with precision and finesse: the players (Sayuri Ando, violin; Helen Bevin, viola; Paul Mitchell, cello; Tui Clarke, clarinets) are excellent together, and each features individually to great effect at times too.

Ron Butlin’s libretto is subtle yet lucid; economical, but not sparse; has substance, yet delivers its message in an accessible manner, in a relatively short space of time. Even the ambiguity of the ending is satisfying, leaving just enough room for private interpretation and contemplation, but not frustrating or confusing one in the process.

The delivery from the singers, obviously expertly directed by David Lawrence and well-prepared for their roles with the assistance of repetiteur pianist Catherine Norton, is exemplary throughout. All three of them – Craig Beardsworth as the troubled, conscience-stricken thief-turned-murderer, Markheim; Hadleigh Adams as the Shopkeeper and later as the Visitant; Frances Moore as the Daughter; and Adams and Moore in cameo roles as drunken revelers – sing and act with a level of professionalism and understanding that belies their youth.

As a team, and aided and complemented by the well-paced music, they keep the ball in the air and our attention riveted, from beginning to end.

Craig Beardsworth brings vulnerability and passion to his role. Even before he sings, he draws us into the trepidation of the thief’s mind with his audible breaths of fear and indecision and, as the tension builds, he portrays the character’s gamut of emotions utterly convincingly with his beautifully resonant baritone voice and tortured facial expressions.

Hadleigh Adams impresses with his cocky, confident, wry and sinister Visitant, at once conveying humour and a sense of foreboding, with excellent characterization in his rich, deep singing and spoken voice.

Frances Moore brings both strength and sensitivity to the role of the Daughter too. She is particularly dramatic in her pleading that Markheim should not kill her; and draws is in completely in the grieving scene, integrating the sobbing intakes of breath seamlessly into her clear, passionate singing.

The scene where drunken revellers (swooningly sung by Moore and Adams) are heard outside the shop is clever: somehow the humour and carefree carry-on makes the impending darkness all the more ominous and ironic … This diversion, as with other moments in the opera, shows the true essence of the story well – rather like in a good old Hitchcock thriller – building suspense, juxtaposing the viewpoints, presenting the dichotomy, yet never quite giving the full resolution… Excellent stuff.

My only tiny gripe is that the director should have appeared on stage at the end of the opening night.

This new work [which premiered in Edinburgh in May 2005] is a must-see show. If excellently crafted and performed intimate chamber opera is your thing (or even if it isn’t), I highly recommend that you get to one of the remaining performances in Wellington, or (if you live further north) in Palmerston North or Auckland.   
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