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Review: Il Viaggio A Reims at the Sydney Opera House

By Carly Fisher

Perhaps one of the Opera’s biggest challenges has been continuing to adapt to suit modern audiences and therefore to attract the attention of new patrons and make more Opera fans of us all. If this is something that the medium has been considering for some time (which, lets face it, so many facets of the Arts have been…how do we remain relevant and trailblazing in this modern climate…), then Opera Australia’s latest work is an intelligent response to the issue – produce an Opera of such a high calibre and of such fun that Opera is once again accessible to all, enjoyable for all and simply a great night’s entertainment.

As comfortable as I am in my knowledge of plays and musicals, I must admit,  I am less familiar with Opera and as such, went into the 3 hour performance of the opening night of Il Viaggio A Reims unsure of whether or not this would necessarily be for me. All the same, the best thing about the Sydney Arts scene is that we have the opportunity to expose ourselves to some of the greatest talents from around the world in a variety of styles, forms and performances on any given night and reviewing this year has made me hyper aware of that privilege we as Sydney-siders have. In this co-production with the Dutch National Opera and Royal Danish Opera, Opera Australia has absolutely delivered the goods in regards to both local and international talents to grace the stage.

Rossini’s Il Viaggio A Reims is rarely staged and in fact, this is the first time that this piece is being performed in Sydney, and it is no major surprise why when you see the juggernaut that is this Opera – featuring 16 principal cast members (all supremely talented) and an exceptionally lavish array of set and costume designs (credit to Paolo Fantin and Carla Teti respectively), understandably this piece is a big undertaking.

Within the sixteen principals are star Russian soprano Irina Lungu and popular baritones Teddy Tahu Rhodes and Giorgio Caoduro. Some Australian Opera favourites took to the stage too including Warwick Fyfe, Julie Lea Goodwin, Sian Sharp and Conal Coad, alongside Opera Australia Young Artist Shanul Sharma who performed the role of Conte di Libenskof, arguably one of the most difficult roles in the opera repertoire for a tenor.

Not featured in the 16 principals was another star of the show, the Conductor, who not only led his orchestra with precision and an exciting enthusiasm that made his conducting appear like beautiful choreography, but also provided some great entertainment for the night, participating in the show and going along with great stage gags. In his Sydney Debut, Daniel Smith as conductor shone for me as one of the stars of the show and I was entranced by his leadership of the stellar orchestra and guidance of the very large cast.

This show was originally written to celebrate the coronation of French King Charles X in 1825 and tell of a group of travellers on route to the coronation. Damiano Michieletto’s exciting new production is now set in an Art gallery instead wherein the travellers must not only overcome the original obstacles set out for them in Rossini’s Opera (namely love, lust and lost luggage) but also must now come face to face with the world’s most famous artworks as they come to life. This interpretation leaves such room for Fantin and Teti’s designs to shine - this night at the Opera is truly a transportation into a rich world of artistic history and grandeur for every member of the audience.

The mix of the old storyline and the new sometimes left for areas of confusion (luckily there were subtitles) but the striking direction by Michieletto distracted quickly from this confusion as your attention was drawn to another clever and powerful image he had created for us on the stage. Michieletto is a phenomenal director who seems to mix choreography, art and theatre together to create something very special and I would love to see more of his work and learn more from him.

My only criticism would be the excessive number of ensemble members. I understand the need for a large ensemble to round out the sound but whether THAT large an ensemble was required for sound or was a deliberate decision for aesthetic, I am unsure. For me, there were SO many people on stage shuffling about at times with no exact purpose (I’ve never seen one room require six people to mop the floor at once for example) that I found them distracting and wished half would stay in the wings at a time.

With that minor critique aside, I must say, three hours flew by and I loved my night at the Opera. There is something quite special about the formality of the Opera (especially at the black tie opening night) that has been lost from many other forms of theatre that really reminded me of the grandeur of the Arts and the privilege we have to see some of the best companies and performers in the world take to one of the most magical stages – the Sydney Opera House. I can see that over the next year I’ll be becoming more familiar with Opera. Il Viaggio A Reims has captured another Opera-goer in me. 

Image Credit: Prudence Upton

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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