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The Love for Three Oranges

Opera Australia presents THE LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES, An opera in four acts and a prologue by Sergei Prokofiev. Libretto by the composer, for Vsevolod Meyerhold’s adaptation of a play by Carlo Gozzi. In the Joan Sutherland Theatre at the Sydney Opera House,  June 22 – July 9, 2016.

THE LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES by Sergei Prokofiev, is in a revival season for Opera Australia (OA). This absolutely delightful production by Francesca Zambello premiered in 2005. I saw it then as well. Then, I remember, it was a shock, and a dazzling but confusing experience. Now, under the Revival Direction of Matthew Barclay, the affect of the performance was one of being ‘tickled’ continuously with a surreal, crazy fairy story laced with the warm-hearted mocking, by the composer, of some of the ‘modes’ of stage theory of his times – 1923 – and particularly in Russia – led by artists such as Vsevolod Meyerhold.

The King of Clubs (David Parkin) has a son, the Prince (Rosario La Spina) and fears he will die of melancholia, so engages Truffaldino (Kanen Breen) to teach the prince to laugh. There are complications from different factions in the court, of course, and when Fata Morgana (Antoinette Halloran), unwittingly triggers a laugh from the Prince, she pronounces a curse that the Prince will fall in love with Three Oranges and roam the world in search of them.  Off he goes, and has many adventures, including the meeting with a frightening Cook (Adrian Tamburini), and , at last, finds the Three Oranges, Linetta (Eva Kong), Nicoletta (Catherine Bouchier) and Ninetta (Julie lea Goodwin). The first two wither from lack of water, but Ninetta survives and the Prince and she are fated for each other. Unfortunately, whilst away informing his father, the King, a servant of Fata Morgana, Smeraldina (Victoria Lambourn) enchants Ninetta who is turned into a rat. Further complications ensue but all turns out well with the ‘good’ being rewarded and the ‘bad’ being punished. It is, as you just read, really, really silly. But in this wonderful production, Set Design by George Tsypin, Costume Design by Tanya Noginova, Lighting Design by Mark Howett, and choreography by Denni Sayers, one can suspend one’s disbelief and simply and pleasurably indulge all the efforts of this work.

The performances by these singer/actors are cast firstly, rightly so, for their capability to sing the demands of Prokofiev and all, generally, fulfil those demands – some with more vocal presence than others. However, when the performer can sing the  compositional needs AND also act the material (silly as it is) one can be transported into a kind of ecstasy. Kanen Breen as Truffaldino is a star of some note for the OA. I cannot ever remember ever being disappointed with the conviction and skills of this performer, and it is a great joy to watch this artist, at last, have a role where he is more than a featured performer – Truffaldino is a co-lead!  Every demand musically is met, and on top of that he has an elastic physicality and a convincing psychological entry to the ‘joie de vivre’ of the zany figure he is playing, inherited from the Italian Commedia dell’arte. He is a comic perfection.

Too, Adrian Tamburini as the gorgon Cook, is tremendous fun – could there be a more amazing contrast of performance skills than what we saw, from this performer last week, in his very convincing Zuniga in the CARMEN? Not likely! Rosario La Spina, less an actor, still, has the ‘spirit’ of the material and keeps us engaged, whilst Julie Lea Goodwin, as the heroine, has less comic demands but has the ‘good’ heroine acting down pat, and she sings gorgeously. This is a very big demand on the whole of the OA company and they pull it off with a committed and flippant wit. Much discipline and spirit is required. One should, for honour’s sake, acknowledge the Chorus members who play the ‘Ridiculous Ones.’

The present staging by Mr Barclay, assisted by John Sheedy and Johanna Puglisi, is joy of clarity and wit. More, dare I say, than I can remember in the original showing. Everything seems settled and now, with a clarity of intention, that is co-ordinated into an entertaining whole. Set, Costume, Performers, Score and Libretto.  Anyone looking for an idea of the ‘look’, the ‘feel’ of absurdist, surreal staging, ought not miss this production from Ms Zambello – it is an object lesson of a successful approach.

The origin of the material is from the play of Italian Carlo Gozzi, the present translation of the libretto is by Tom Stoppard (witty, indeed,) and both the libretto and the music, has been master-minded by Prokofiev – in 1921 – and originally for the Chicago Opera in the good old US of A. Clearly, not written in Stalin’s Russia – he would never have approved it. Remember what he did to Shostakovich in reaction to his LADY MACBETH OF MTSENSK DISTRICT, let alone, what he may have done to THE NOSE? The musical score is, famously, made up of ‘bits and pieces’, and deliberately so – but they are memorable ‘bits and pieces’ – one cannot help but being disarmed by the famous MARCH, of the opera,  often repeated during the course of the adventure.

Here is an OA production that deserved to be the Opening Opera for the 2016 season.  So much more interesting and arresting than the CARMEN. I sat there and recalled another crazy work, THE MAGIC FLUTE, and thought, if THE LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES were as exposed to the audience as that Mozart work, it may become a popular and alternative stalwart money-maker. It certainly has all the charm and all the magic and comic delight of that work. It should and does in this production appeal to all ages. Take your young ones.

THE LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES, thoroughly recommended. Go.

For you non-opera goers, remember it is an opera and they have to be able to sing as well as act. Make adjustments of expectancy.