Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

05/08/2017 - 12/08/2017

Production Details


After their critically acclaimed debut production of “Don Giovanni” in 2016, Eternity Opera is returning with Mozart’s irresistible comic masterpiece.

It’s Figaro’s wedding day and he is shocked to learn that his master, the Count, is out to bed his bride-to-be, Susanna. The Countess is also heartbroken by her husband’s faithlessness – but she must also contend with the adolescent desires of the page, Cherubino.

The bubbling, energetic score sees Mozart at his theatrical best, with gorgeous period costumes and designs.

Performed in English by a lineup of top Wellington singers, this will again be directed by Alex Galvin and conducted by Simon Romanos, with support from the Eternity Chamber Orchestra, led by former NZ String Quartet violinist Doug Beilman.

HANNAH PLAYHOUSE, Cambridge Tce, Wellington
Cast A:
Sat 5 August – 7.30pm
Tues 8 August – 6pm
Thur 10 August – 7.30pm
Sat 12 August – 7.30pm
Cast B:
Sun 6 August – 6pm
Wed 9 August – 7.30pm
Fri 11 August – 7.30pm

Cast A / Cast B
Count Almaviva… Orene Tiai / William King
Countess Almaviva… Kate Lineham / Hannah Catrin Jones
Susanna (Her maid, betrothed to Figaro)… Emily Mwila / Pasquale Orchard
Figaro (Valet to the Count)… Jamie Henare / William McElwee
Cherubino (The Count’s Page)… Elisabeth Harris / Olivia Sheat
Dr Bartolo (A Doctor from Seville)… Roger Wilson / Richard Dean
Marcellina (Bartolo’s Housekeeper)… Marian Hawke / Laura Loach
Don Basilio/Don Curzio (Music Master)… Mark Bobb / Peter King
Antonio (Gardener)… Nino Raphael / Minto Fung
Barbarina (Antonio’s Daughter)… Shayna Tweed / Alexandra Woodhouse

Theatre , Opera ,

A concentrated experience of musical and theatrical delight

Review by Tim Stevenson 06th Aug 2017

(Note that this review refers to the conductor and cast who appeared on 5 August; cast and conductors differ according to the night of performance)

Dateline: somewhere near Seville, Spain; 1780-something. This news just in: Count Almaviva has decided to revive the feudal custom of droit de seigneur. The Count feels good about this. It means he gets to sleep with his wife’s maid on the first night of her marriage. No one else in the household feels okay about it. Not the target of the Count’s ‘droit,’ Susannah. Not the bridegroom, Figaro. Not Almaviva’s wife.

But Almaviva is a Count and it’s 1780-something, so what he says, goes. Or will it? The multi-layered answers to this and other related tangles of love, desire, law and possession are worked out over four acts in one of the most famous operas in the canon, The Marriage of Figaro (music composed by Wolfgang Mozart; original libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte).

Some folk have been known to approach works from any sector of the canon on tip-toe, with the reverence otherwise kept for religious services. In the case of opera, the air of otherworldly mystery is enhanced by the fact that the libretto is usually in a foreign language. This results in the phenomenon known as ‘opera face’ which combines devoutness with half-concealed puzzlement. 

This performance of Figaro at the Hannah Playhouse romps over such potential obstacles by the simple device of giving us a production full of joy, charm, humour and glorious music performed by skilled, talented singers – singing in English, for any sufferers from ‘opera face’ amongst us.  

The result is such a concentrated experience of musical and theatrical delight, with so much to offer its audience, that it’s hard to believe that it’s only on for a week (5-12 August, so unless you are physically allergic to opera and/or Mozart, you may want to think hard about booking your ticket now). 

Having said that, this opening night performance begins quietly – you could say, a little too quietly – as the performers act and sing themselves into their roles. The standout exception to this is Emily Mwila, who storms the role of Susannah from her first moment on stage and maintaines the same high level of command and vocal beauty throughout the night. Her strong acting and superb voice makes a major contribution to the success of the performance.

Elisabeth Harris as Cherubino also stands out, for a sustained and engaging performance in this traditionally attractive role. She demonstrates admirable versatility in delivering the lyrical and comic sides of her character with equal conviction and skill.

Orene Tiai as Count Almaviva takes a little time to warm to his role, but when he does hit his straps, he is compelling: a joy to watch for the feeling on his face; a joy to hear for the power and velvety splendour of his voice.

Kate Linehan as Countess Almaviva also has a slightly uncertain start, after which she succeeds in releasing the considerable beauty of her voice. She finishes one of her arias, which she sings wonderfully, with a big smile; perhaps it is an upbeat moment for the Countess, perhaps and as well, Linehan knows she has nailed it and can relax and enjoy herself (your reviewer may be reading too much into a smile, but that’s what it looks like).

Jamie Henare gives us a mostly low-key, detached interpretation of the role of Figaro. Henare is gifted with an outstanding voice, and a pleasing stage presence, being a well-made man with an agreeable and mobile face. There are times when it is a little hard to hear him – as if he owns a secondary gift for finding dead spots on the stage. His quiet, understated Figaro sometimes leaves the action a little wanting in energy.

One of this production’s strengths is the quality of performers in the smaller roles. To mention only a few: Marian Hawke as Marcellina is the consummate opera performer, in acting, voice and command of her role. Mark Bobb as Don Basilio demonstrates that he is a hard worker on stage and the possessor of a particularly pleasing and expressive voice. Shayna Tweed gives us a short but thrilling sample of her vocal abilities in the role of Barbarina. The singing when cast and chorus are performing together is sublime.

This Figaro is at the smaller end of the scale, to fit with the venue. This means that the musicians in the necessarily downsized orchestra have to work harder, which they do to commendable effect. It also adds to the production’s charms, by making the orchestra and conductor part of the spectacle. 

There are moments when the cast and orchestra drift out of sync and, at such times, the audience are treated to the sight of the conductor Simon Romanos signalling energetically to the singers on his left and the orchestra on the right. Unless you’re addicted to perfection, these glimpses into the workings of the machine enhance the performance; they remind us how much skill and effort it takes to bring such a diversity of voices and instruments together in sublime unity. 

The production is well supported by lighting, makeup and set design and delivery. The period-ish costumes are a treat to the eye. 

Congratulations to the entire Eternity Opera Company for this outstanding achievement and, in particular, to the director Alex Galvin and producer Emma Beale for the very considerable amount of work it has undoubtedly taken to conceive and design this production and make it happen.  


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