The Red Apple by Jacques Offenbach is the first of two pieces presented in a new show by Lyric Opera of Melbourne. The performances in this one act work are impressive but the opera itself is a lacklustre, fluffy arrangement which could be entertaining if it were sent up completely. Nathan Gilkes directs Kate Amos as a coquettish Catherine, and Michael Lapina and Bruce Raggatt as Jonathan and Gravenstein respectively. Although the show is hammed and camped up to a degree, it still fails to grab. The opera itself is formulaic light opera stuff; there are some nice and pretty tunes but nothing that would stick in your mind. The score is soundly presented here with a fine band under Pat Miller's baton but there seems so little point to the whole thing it's almost a waste of talent. The lively cast carry it well, though; the best moment of the night I saw was when Michael Lapina accidentally copped a whack in the goolies in a tangle with Gravenstein (performed with relish by Raggatt) and they had to contain their giggles. Lapina has a wonderful tenor voice, by his own admission almost too big for the space, and, interestingly, in his performance he embodied the role to the point where you could get a sense of real feeling.
The libretto (this English version by musical director Miller) has been successfully modernised in the vein of Mozart comic opera and is amusingly chockablock with puns and double entendres. Because there is a pantomime aspect to the actual work though, there was a dissonance between the content and form as the production didn't go far enough in its own overall silliness: The Red Apple is an unsatisfying, daft story and demands a disrespectful lampooning while maintaining its musical integrity.
The second work, also in one act, is Trouble in Tahiti by Leonard Bernstein. This is an interesting tense opera with no nice neat resolution; it is a small story of a 1950s couple (nicely performed and sung by mezzo-soprano Caroline Vercoe and baritone Matthew Thomas) trying to find their way back to love despite the stifling nature of their lives. Musically the opera is quite complex with a range of styles referenced, and you can hear echoes of West Side Story in the score. The background chorus, a Puckish trio comprising Kate Mcfarlane, Daniel Thomson and Benjamin Riley, works well, their voices are easily distinguished and nicely harmonised. Soprano coloratura Macfarlane has a mesmerising quality about her, she is compelling to watch and listen to and nearly stole the show. Thomas does a terrific job of appearing much more mature than his actual age. Moving stuff.
Lyric Opera of Melbourne presents
The Red Apple & Trouble in Tahiti
Venue: Chapel Off Chapel - 112 Little Chapel St, Prahran
Dates: 21 - 29 April, 2012
Tickets: $48 - $30