One of the really productive aims of this Festival is to present classical music in accessible, enjoyable and experimental ways. As it is the two hundredth anniversary of the whopping composers Wagner and Verdi, there is an in depth focus on these rivals in this year’s program.

Verdi’s operatic heroines endure much. These singing sirens are murdered, humiliated, abused, fall prey to sexual predators and tend to die in agony from terminal disease. This event looks at the experience of the opera composing marvel’s women on the home front.

Three talented local sopranos, Dania Cornelius (Giuseppina Strepponi, The Wife), Gabrielle Jack (First Love) and Judit Molnar (Theresa Stolz – The Mistress) acted and sang popular hits from Rigoletto, La Traviata, Nabucco, Aida, Otello, Don Carlo and Macbeth.

The setting of a living room with Verdi’s scores and photographs perched on a sideboard, created a sepia look and authentic atmosphere. The arias embedded into the context of Regan Flor’s script gave Verdi’s enduring operatic hits including Addio, del passato (La Traviata) and “O Patria Mia (Aida) new meaning.

An advantage and disadvantage of this venue was the ample acoustic. This created the odd “balancing” issue but mostly favoured the music and enabled the singing and high notes to soar and float luxuriously in the cavernous space. Yet, it wasn’t quite so generous to the dialogue, which needed more sparkle, drive and varied nuance and pace to make an impact anyway. And, more significantly, it was hard to hear. The hiss and grumble of Ann Street traffic created an irksome soundtrack in competition with the cast.

The plot was simple. First Love, the deceased Margherita who died at the age of 26 haunts Verdi’s second marriage to Giuseppina who now has to fight for Verdi’s affection from another quarter. Judit Molnar (Theresa Stolz), who has sung the Merry Widow in Melbourne for Opera Australia, was stunning in her role, cruising with distinction through the arias and looking glam in a lustrous golden frock with chocolate brown trim. Jack sang beautifully too, but her positioning in the choir stalls at the back of the church, admittedly a good spot for any apparition to loiter, didn’t embrace her silvery, sweet voice although her performance was accomplished.

Cornelius, sometime soloist and chorus member with Opera Queensland, with the majority to sing and carrying the most difficult role, wrestled with nerves initially but once settled acquitted her delivery of some really tough arias with sensitivity and conviction.

As a theatrical experience Verdi’s Women was a mixed success. Once I gave up on hearing the dialogue, I sat back and enjoyed the wonder of the music capably accompanied by pianist Prue Gibbs. If this was appreciated as a sumptuously costumed recital, it was enjoyable. As staged drama not so much. It would be worth repeating the enterprise in an easier space with the script tweaked here and there and the acting enabled to shine.

Verdi’s Women

Venue: St Andrew's Church BRISBANE
Date: 11 May 2013
Time: 8pm

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The Australian Chamber Orchestra is such a class act.