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BRAVO! NIGHT AT THE OPERA (article first published : 2005-04-6)

I wasn’t able to attend the opening night of Bravo! Night at The Opera but I understand that it was a magnificent evening with audience members dressed to the nines and the performance greeted with a standing ovation.

Second nights in the theatre world are usually considered somewhat down after the nerve-wracking tension and hype of opening nights. No such situation last night, it seemed. Thanks to the pro-active efforts of the Playhouse Company’s energetic new artistic director, Linda Bukhosini, opera is back on the majestic Playhouse Opera stage after a break of about 12 years. Not only back but alive and well, with a production featuring some of the best young opera singers in South Africa who proved that they can handle major roles with aplomb and perform them to an exceptionally high standard.

Although he has spent many years with the English National Opera and directed productions elsewhere in South Africa, this is the first time Durban audiences have seen Steven Stead’s capacity for directing opera. It is definitely his forte and his talents mix well with this grand, highly theatrical and spectacular genre. He places his soloists and choruses well for best dramatic effect.

In creating Bravo! Night at The Opera, Steven chose to take whole acts from four of the world’s best-known operas in order to demonstrate how their composers told stories through music. The operas are Verdi’s La Traviata (Act I), Puccini’s La Bohème (Act III), Bizet’s Carmen (Act I) and Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus (Act II).

Greg King has designed a practical white set to which is added archways, drapes, fountains or skeletal trees for the different scenarios. Michael Broderick’s lighting complements it excellently, from the dramatic black and white opening scene of La Traviata, the hot passion of Carmen and the wintry snow scene of La Bohème to the lush drapes and sparkling lights of Die Fledermaus. I would like to mention, though, that the much-used settee from Nutcracker has now long outgrown its versatility! I also question the logic of the checkpoint boom in La Bohème as the audience doesn’t register the fact that there is a sloped access until close to the end of the scene.

Terrence Bray’s costumes – designed in the style of “couture fashion frocks that might be worn by a diva on the concert platform” work very well and Violetta’s gown is sublime! Also good to see acknowledgement to the Playhouse wardrobe staff back again in the programme as this department has been sadly inactive of late.

My main accolades for the evening go to the highly versatile Zanne Stapelberg who played the gentle Micaëla in Carmen, a memorable Mimi in La Bohème and breezed through Rosalinde’s dramatic role in Die Fledermaus.

Angela Kerrison was a sophisticated and elegant Violetta (La Traviata), changing to an argumentative and flighty Musetta (La Bohème) and then to the flirtatious Adele (Die Fledermaus).

I was very impressed with Dale Wesson’s sensual and manipulative Carmen and she was a suitably bored Prince Orlovsky in Die Fledermaus. Stéfan Louw is a considerable presence on stage and I particularly enjoyed his Alfredo (La Traviata) as well as his wayward Gabriel von Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus.

Dewald von Solms was Don Jose in Carmen, and brought much pathos to Rodolfo in La Bohème. Abel Moeng is another versatile performer, the only singer to appear in each operatic excerpt with his Marcello in La Bohème being the most impressive. Bongani Vilakazi was amusing as Col Frank in Die Fledermaus and Ntando Cele appeared as Violetta’s Maid, coming into her own as the ditsy Ida in Die Fledermaus.

The acclaimed Durban Serenade Choral Society makes up the chorus. I know this group’s work well, having been on tour with them when they accompanied the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra to London and Bremen last year. Bravo! is their biggest challenge to date and despite their lack of training in drama techniques, they acquitted themselves extremely well after what was a comparatively short rehearsal period. The Playhouse Company might do well to look at providing the society with a drama workshop to expand these skills further.

An added luxury for the evening was the KZNPO conducted by Naum Rousine and special mention should be made of the well-disciplined Nsimbini Primary School Boys Chorus who appeared in the Carmen excerpt.

This is a perfect production to introduce new audiences to opera. The music is well-known and the action dramatic and believable. There are two more performances in The Playhouse Opera on April 7 and 9 at 19h30. Pre-booked tickets range between R35 and R85, and door prices range from R50 to R100 (concessions for block bookings, students, scholars and pensioners). Booking is through Computicket on 083 915 8000 or www.computicket.com or Dial-A-Seat on 031 369 9555. – Caroline Smart




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