ULLA’S ODYSSEY & LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR
23/05/2012 - 27/05/2012
The Opera Factory is proud to present an exciting double bill of new award winning NZ compositions for their 23 – 27 May Opera off Broadway premiere season, featuring the two winning entries in Opera Factory’s nationwide compositional contest.
‘Ulla’s Odyssey’ – composed by Anthony Young with libretto by Leanna Brodie.
An enchanting nautical fantasy about a young girl’s solo sail around the world, the mythical creatures and environmental obstacles she encounters on her journey. The cast features Elizabeth Mandeno as Ulla, Milla Dickens (Sea Goddess), Fiona Li (Sylla), Patrick Kelly (Cy-Ops), Mike Wu (Garibdis), with Angelina Davey, Warren Kilham, Leila Alexander, Luana Prictor, Anthony Young and Alysia Han.
‘Love Thy Neighbour’ – music composed and libretto by Callum Blackmore.
A delicious tragic-comedy about a spinster gardening guru, her prize winning turnip called ‘Winston’ and her battles with a neighbouring, niggling, asthmatic, hypochondriac!
The trio of principals features Catherine Reaburn and Adam Thompson as the warring neighbours and introduces Robert Enari as Winston, the rapping Turnip!
Maestro David Kelly with Flavio Villani will provide the intricate piano and keyboard accompaniments and both operas are directed by Sally Sloman. The two new operas won first prize respectively in the Open and Under 30’s section of Opera Factory’s recent nationwide compositional contest. This premiere season also salute the NZ Music month of May and both operas are suitable for all ages.
The Opera Factory fringe theatre is situated in the heart of Newmarket at 7 Eden Street and is one minutes walk from public rail, bus links and carparks.
Performances: Wednesday 23rd May to Saturday 26th May at 7.30pm plus 2pm matinees on Saturday 26th May and Sunday 27th May.
The operas are suitable for all ages and early reservations are recommended.
What: Opera off Broadway premiere
Where: The Factory Theatre, 7 Eden Street, Newmarket
When: 23 – 27 May (Weds – Sat 7.30pm + Sat/Sun 2pm matinees)
How: Online at www.iticket.co.nz or Phone iTICKET 09 361 1000
Elizabeth Mandeno (soprano) as Ulla
Catherine Reaburn (mezzo) as Female Neighbour
Adam Thompson (baritone) as Male Neighbour
Pianist – David Kelly with Keyboardist Flavio Villani
Stage Design & creation – John Eaglen
Lighting Design & operator – Samantha Denize
Costumes – Emma Sloman & Kat Wells
One ambitious but poorly staged and incomprehensible; the other good natured and enjoyable
Review by Samantha Chardin 24th May 2012
Opera Factory premieres a double bill of original works by young local artists of contrasting style and varying success. It is refreshing to see new work by emerging talent rather than the usual fall back to classic fare and this production is well within Opera Factory’s mission of developing artists to their potential.
Viewing the shows in support of that mission is the duty of every self-professed theatre aficionado in Auckland, and this show at least offers some rewards for that devotion. These artists won the opportunity to see their works staged by Opera Factory. The first show is ambitious but ultimately disappointing, while the second show is funny and entertaining.
Ulla’s Odyssey(composed by Anthony Young, libretti by Leanna Brodie) – pitched as “An enchanting nautical fantasy about a young girl’s solo sail around the world, the mythical creatures and environmental obstacles she encounters on her journey” – suffers from distracting staging and a tendency by the cast to muddle lyrics to a level of incomprehension.
Although one doesn’t go to opera for lyrics (particularly since so few are performed in English), some familiarity with the story prior to viewing a performance is also helpful in that case. When seeing a show in English one does expect to be able to follow the story.
I considered that it might be an acoustical problem with the theatre itself but the problem does not present itself in the following show, so the fault lies with the cast. One can at least forgive those cast members who are performing in a non-native language, but the native English speakers do not have that excuse. This basic problem makes much of the action difficult to follow and the story is at times as murky as the polluted waters of the ocean which Ulla (Elizabeth Mandeno) learns to treat with respect.
While costumes, hair and make up for Ulla’s Odyssey are great, unfortunately the staging is at times distracting and noisy, creating an obstacle for the performers who are already struggling with the libretti.
Mandeno is burdened with a role that requires her to be on stage and engaged for the duration and her energy does flag. However, the biggest deflation in her mainsail is that she sings the entire role “pretty,” even when the music and dramatic action of a scene calls for a change in tone or character. There is a lack of levels in her performance and the show suffers a drain of overall energy as a result.
One notable exception to the enunciation problem is Patrick Kelly. This tenor is a clear stand out; his biography shows that he is probably one of the more experienced members of the cast. His voice has enough strength and clarity even as part of the chorus that his words could be clearly heard over the rest. It is a pleasure to see his role as a sentient lighthouse and to hear his voice given full expression.
The other entertaining member of this show is a non-speaking, non-singing performance from the youngest member of the cast, Alysia Han. Her physical presence in the role of a cat is precise and exactly the right level of exaggeration required for good live theatre. Although she has an easier role, it would be nice to see the rest of the cast give that same level of physical energy and commitment to their parts.
The phrases that can be made out clearly are a bit heavy handed in their message and seem at odds with the subtle musical choices and lovely dissonance in Young’s score. Unfortunately, many short musical phrases and moments the composer intended for dramatic effect are discarded by the cast like so much refuse into the sea. They are sung too quietly or without clear purpose only because they’re short phrases. It makes me wish for percussion in this music at times, to liven up the actors. They need to treat all the small moments as equally important as the big dramatic crescendo.
It would also been nice to see the characters in Ulla’s Oddessey interacting with each other more rather than singing out to the audience in a static and statuesque manner; again a problem with the choice of set and the staging.
None of these problems are evident in the pleasurable and funny Love Thy Neighbour, the work of young writer/composer Callum Blackmore. This piece – “about a spinster gardening guru, her prize winning turnip called ‘Winston’ and her battles with a neighbouring, niggling, asthmatic, hypochondriac” – is technically not an opera and more in the realm of musical theatre.
I realise that this can be open to interpretation, but for most people an opera’s music and story can expand to fill even the largest theatre, and has a fullness of sound and complexity of music that does not naturally lend itself to comedy. Opera is massive in scale and vocally taxing. I respect Ulla’s Odyssey for attempting music and staging that could be opened up to a larger venue.
Blackmore’s unpretentious little delight plays with various musical styles and provides ample opportunity for the cast of three to play off each other in an entertaining and hilarious way.
Catherine Raeburn uses her operatic lungs to good comedic effect and demonstrates the physical and energetic commitment to her role that is so lacking in the previous selection.
Another great example of commitment is Robert Enari, who plays a turnip with so much brio I may never look at root vegetables the same way again. Many of his most hilarious moments are non-speaking reactions. His face is a great study in what an actor can do with intention and thoughts alone.
Adam Thompson is a bit vocally outmatched by Raeburn but makes up for this with his comedic commitment and timing. All three cast members are crisp in their language and give the audience many laughs as we delight in the clever lyrics and engaging story of the young creator.
The music is not particularly memorable, borrowing from other composers in style, but a distinctive sound may come with maturity.
Love Thy Neighbor is so good natured and enjoyable, in fact, that the ending feels like a bit of a cheat. Rather than write in a comedic rationalisation for a character’s sudden change of heart, I’d prefer to see their conflict expand and see them escalate their warfare. Blackmore has great comedic instinct but could commit to his idea and take the conflict between two unlikable characters to the extreme and silly level this premise calls for.
This show is genuinely unpredictable and energetic in the lively way you hope young talent to be. It was a pleasure to see something new and experimental. Any cliché moments are easily forgiven when you are treated to an angry tango performed over a picket fence.
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