The Bear & Angelique | Victorian OperaLeft - Theresa Borg and Benjamin Namdarian. Cover - John Bolton Wood and Jessica Aszodi. Photos - Jeff Busby

The Bear/Angélique
is a light double-bill on the theme of love.

The Bear, based on the play by Anton Chekhov with a score composed by William Walton, tells the twisted little love story of stubborn widower Popova who falls in love with Smirnov, a man to whom her husband owed money. The opera revels in Chekhov’s satire. Director Tayla Masel, along with set designer Adam Gardnir and costume designer Harriet Oxley, uses a light touch to produce a production at once amusing and captivating.

The stark atmospheric design complements Walton’s vivid musical score beautifully. Walton’s composition is accessible and delightfully playful. Subtitled an ‘extravaganza’, it amuses and engages as it complements the action on stage. Under the direction of Ollivier-Philippe Cuneo, the Victorian Opera Chamber Orchestra brought the score to life with an easy skill and enjoyment. Jessica Aszodi was a delight as Popova, her beautiful voice supported by her acting in which she balanced just the right amount of melodrama with restraint to reveal the comedy.

Unfortunately, the second opera was not so engaging, Angélique fell short of expectation. With more extended dialogue than singing, Angélique is better described as some kind of operetta than an opera. It seems a strange choice of repertoire, revealing the company’s faults rather than highlighting their strengths.

Composed by Jacques Ibert in 1927, Angélique is a piece of its time – a farce filled with simple unsophisticated slapstick humour. Despite humouring most of the older audience, the comedy seemed out-of date and, at times, inappropriate. As expected, Masel’s direction, along with the design, hammered home the crude humour with an over-sized codpiece, which, I must admit, made me smile - just a little. The representation of women, along with stereotypical race representations, however, lacked consideration and necessary contemporary re-interpretation.

The production tended to drag, the extended sections of dialogue lacking a much needed energy to drive the show forward. Due to illness, Samuel Dundas had to withdraw from the main role of Boniface and was stoically replaced by Adam Murphy (reading and performing) and James Payne (singing). Despite the show-must-go-on attitude, the cast seemed unsettled, the production unfinished and a bit rough around the edges.

Despite some of this production’s failings, I continue to be inspired by the Victorian Opera Company’s ambition and willingness to take risks. To see a Victorian Opera Company production is to be exposed to something different, something other than the usual operatic fare.

Victorian Opera presents
The Bear
by William Walton
by Jacques Ibert

Sung in English with surtitles

Venue: Arts Centre, Playhouse
Dates/Times: 11, 13, 17, 19 & 20 March @ 7:30pm
Matinees: 14 March @ 5.00pm, 16 March @ 6:30pm
Duration: 2 hours and 15 mins, including one 20 min interval
Tickets: $30 - $148
Bookings: | 1300 182 183

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