Rush Hour | Victorian OperaLeft – (l-r) Timothy Reynolds, Christine Heald, Daniel Todd, Jeremy Kleeman, Kirilie Blythmna, Oliva Cranwell (back) and Carlos E. Bárcenas. Cover – (l-r) Christine Heald, Daniel Todd, Olivia Cranwell, Jeremy Kleeman, Carlos E. Bárcenas and Kirilie Blythman. Photos – Charlie Kinross

A cabaret evening? A graduation recital? An evening of operatic arias? Rush Hour is all of those things. Seven young opera singers sang and acted seventeen loosely related songs and arias which were woven into a continuous whole by a co-creative process between the singers, the music staff of Victorian Opera, and the enterprising director Nicki Wendt. She established a black space with splashes of red and white, which the singers inhabited in various states of black dress or undress, both as solo performers and as extras for each other.

One of the marks of a young opera singer is whether a stage lets them sing better or worse than a concert situation. The most successful performance in this respect was tenor Daniel Todd's performance of the first song from Mahler's Song of the Earth. While sounding not unlike Julius Patzak, he acted this song as if it formed part of an opera in perhaps the most ambitious bit of staging of the evening. It worked amazingly well, and it was worth attending this concert for this alone. It was also a pleasure to hear the work in Schoenberg's reduced scoring. The baritone Jeremy Kleeman was also engaging  in his performance of three songs, by Rossini, Sondheim, and Kurt Weill, all delivered with  a sort of sardonic humour I think he we go on to develop well.

Olivia Cromwell sang two Verdi arias which showcased the power and maturity of her soprano voice. The moments I liked best, however, were the rare soft passages, especially the beautiful ports de voix at the end of Ritorna Vincitor from Aida. Christine Heald gave a gentle and touching account of two French arias, but seemed uneasy on stage. For me the standout among the women was Kirilie Blythman, who, without overtly acting much, held the audience in thrall with her clear, steady, resonant soprano throughout her rendering of arias from Gounod's Faust and Dvorak's Russalka.

Along with masterpieces like the Mahler and the two Verdi arias, we heard music of more questionable merit. Carlos Barcenas, a tenor with some very strong high notes (I’d like to hear him sing Puccini), sang four songs in his native Spanish which I never wish to hear again. But the worst was a travesty of Schubert's wonderful Gute Nacht, the opening song of Die Winterreise. It was arranged by someone called Zender in a way which completely subverted the essence of Lieder, externalising both landscape and emotion and trivializing both. It was sung by a tenor with beautiful diction and a transparency of voice which I think may be more suited to Lieder and oratorio work than to opera, Timothy Reynolds. He also sang an aria from Bach's Cantata 182 with care and affection.

Daniel Carter conducted the singers and the ensemble of 14 players with energy and finesse. Credit for the planning of this event must go to a collaboration between Barry Conyngham, dean of the Melbourne Conservatorium, and Richard Mills, artistic director of Victorian Opera. They and their teams have taken a graduation recital into the sphere of professional opera.

Victorian Opera presents
Rush Hour
With Orchestra Victoria

Director Nicki Wendt
Conductor Daniel Carter

Venue: Merlyn Theatre | The Malthouse, Melbourne
Dates: 1 – 2 October 2013
Tickets: $26 – $20
Bookings: 03 9685 5111

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