Review By Anja Bless
Endangered Productions is a not-for-profit professional theatre company specialising in rarely-performed music theatre and through Double Trouble – Mozart and Bach at Play it has given audiences the opportunity to step back in time and enjoy these famous composers as they may never have seen them.
The double bill features 12 year-old Mozart’s romantic comedy opera Bastien and Bastienna and JS Bach’s Coffee Cantana performed by the joyous trio of soprano Lesley Braithwaite, tenor Damien Hall, and bass baritone Ed Shuttle. The chosen venue for the Sydney showing was the heritage Barnet Long Room in Customs House, which lent to the classical and Baroque atmospheres and allowed the room to be filled with the music of the chamber ensemble.
Bastien and Bastienna is a romantic tussle between a jilted and a repenting lover and one of the famous composer’s earliest operas. Adapted by Artistic Director Christine Logan to a mid-20th century New York, the tale follows Bastienna (Braithwaite) whose lover, Bastien (Hall), has left her for a richer woman. Before fleeing for shame she visits Colas (Shuttle), depicted in this production as a therapist and aspiring hypnotist. Colas helps orchestrate the reunion of the two lovers, but not before a lover’s quarrel. Braithwaite’s comedic timing shines alongside Hall as her counterpart, although at times her softer soprano is difficult to hear over the ensemble from the back of the room. Hall’s repentant lover as Bastien is endearing and amusing, and Shuttle’s Colas entertains in his meddling as he watches the results of his plan unfold. However, the German accent used by Shuttle makes it at times hard to understand what he is saying, particularly on the quicker lines.
The small set has been used effectively, quickly being transformed from a luxury apartment, to a maid’s bedroom, to a therapist’s office in rapid fashion by the supporting ensemble. However the wings, barely used, were probably unnecessary and limited the space for the performers on stage.
After a brief intermission, the cast and set transform for Bach’s Coffee Cantana. The tale follows the troubled Lieschen (Braithwaite) whose addiction to coffee (in this interpretation a euphemism for cocktails) weighs on her father Schlendrian (Shuttle). As they bicker over her addiction, the narrator (Hall) watches on. Braithwaite’s characterisation and physical comedy is particularly strong in this performance as she embraces Lieschen’s rebellious nature. Shuttle is stronger in his performance as Schlendrian, searching the audience for a husband that can save his daughter. Hall is a beguiling observer as his dual role as narrator and bar tender, and though he unfortunately missed some of his high notes, the physical comedy as he and Lieschen match on a dating app had the audience giggling.
Personally, I preferred the stronger, more bolsterous music of Bach’s cantana, however the chamber ensemble led by Music Director Peter Alexander was consistently excellent throughout both performances.
The styling and modern take for Coffee Cantana was a clever translation by Logan and Designer Sandy Gray, switching the coffee shop to an underground bar helped carry across the comedy of Bach’s work, as an addiction to coffee is hardly unusual in modern Sydney.
Overall, Double Trouble was a delightful evening out, you almost felt as if you were in the courts of a European palace, enjoying the new comedy from your favourite composer over a glass of wine or cup of tea. More casual and intimate than a typical evening at the opera, Endangered Productions is putting the ideal of socially inclusive and accessible musical theatre into practice.
Image Credit: Marion Wheeler