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Review: Il Tabarro at the Australian Maritime Museum

Review by Rowan Brunt

The Victorian Opera brings to Sydney Festival 2024 a daring voyage into the realms of nautical noir with its open-air production of Puccini’s Il Tabarro, and the result was a fascinating and innovative exploration of musical storytelling that pushed the boundaries of traditional opera performance. This was anticipated part of the program that I was very much looking forward to 

Director Constantine Costi, having previously staged this one-act piece, undertook the ambitious task once more but upping his risk by bring it to the waters of Sydney Harbour. The stage was set aboard the historic lightship Carpentaria, docked outside the Australian National Maritime Museum, giving a perfect view of the sky line all the way through performance. The orchestra found its place on an adjacent barge, creating a unique and immersive experience for the audience. The sheer imagination and guts behind this concept is praiseworthy, demonstrating a commitment to pushing the boundaries of traditional opera staging. It is not very often we get immersive theatre of this scale, unless you count the Opera Australia harbour series.

Il Tabarro, which translates to The Cloak, was originally staged in 1918 and follows the story of dock workers on the River Seine grappling with the challenges of their times. Luigi's desperate plan to change their fortunes sets the stage for a whirlwind of love affairs and arguments, ending, like many operas do, in tragedy. Puccini’s scores

are known for its realistic depiction of violence and murder, and in this open-air production, the elements of nautical noir added an extra layer to the already alluring and stunning musical elements.

While the production faced its share of challenges, particularly in adapting to the unconventional set aboard Carpentaria, it also showcased commendable efforts to infuse light, shade, and spectacle into the performance. Opera being the perfect medium to embrace spectacle. The costumes designed by Sabina Myers, though opting for a simple style, complemented the overall aesthetic, creating a visual harmony within the maritime backdrop and creating a cohesive look for the cast.

On the technical front, the crew demonstrated expertise in ensuring that every voice resonated with clear and crisp precision, allowing the audience to fully savor the powerful and well-trained voices. A standout performance came from Olivia Cranwell, who portrayed Giorgetta with a powerful voice and a nuanced interpretation.

On the performance that I saw there were some staging and execution issue that are always going to come with staging something this grande in such a setting that has so many additional risk factors you are battling with. Although the production demonstrated a commendable commitment to pushing artistic boundaries and presenting a classic opera in a fresh and captivating way. This is the kind of opera that I really enjoy seeing even if it doesn’t hit every mark it is breaking out of the mold and encouraging audiences to envisage more for the art form.

Puccini’s Il Tabarro, soaring high above the waters, found a unique anchor in Costi’s production, proving that even in the face of challenges, creative exploration and dedication can yield innovative and memorable experiences for audiences. The Victorian Opera's endeavor showcased a commitment to redefining the boundaries of traditional opera, inviting audiences to embark on a captivating journey through the immersive world of Il Tabarro aboard the historic Carpentaria for Sydney Festival.

Image Supplied


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