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opera australia presents ‘chorus!’ @ dame joan sutherland theatre

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An opera company chorus. That triple-threat troupe which moves, acts and sings across any production stage, weaving in and out amongst the principals. Its members are flexible headliners of mood change, atmosphere, narrative, theme and they gild many scenes on a regular basis with energetic responses to traditional and innovative movement.

Chorus!, a novel and dynamic entertainment,  uses the Opera Australia Chorus, two pianos, bold lighting of the backstage-vibe set and stunning, challenging choreography. It is a concert concept for new and old fans of ensemble voices which must be repeated on a regular basis.

Above: Opera Australia Chorus in ‘Chorus!’ Photo by Keith Saunders.

Nowhere near a static choral performance, the event flows and morphs between assorted opera classics impressively. There are moments of humour, stunningly still visual and vocal formation as well as fresh blocking of old favourites taken out of context, presented with fresh imagery.

The programme and the edgy tableaux it features avoids a mere chronological swoop through the history of opera, or groupings within language, or brackets of similar composers or musical styles.

Instead during Chorus! we enjoy a constant switch between the juxtaposed operas, the  emotional snapshots and mini-narratives. These are re-invented onstage with effective coverage of the space. Unique blocking and movement celebrates the ensemble presence along with a tribute to fine choral writing now in new guise instead of being harnessed to the well-known plot of origin.

A highlight comes in fact as something of a ‘State of Origin’  or Melbourne-season AFL fan tribute moment. Early on the chorus members deliver Madama Butterfly’s ‘Humming Chorus’ in salubrious slo-mo with footy scarves grouped as a tight scrum of spirited singers.

Above: Opera Australia Chorus in ‘Chorus!’ Photo by Keith Saunders.

There is another virtuosic transformation from the original opera blocking at the opposite end of the programme. Wedged no less between Bizet’s Carmen welcome party for Escamillo and a glorious excerpt from Bernstein’s Candide. This is a poignant re-imagining of ‘With Drooping Wings’ from Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.

The magical and touching segment showcases some sensitive, hushed choral singing, with a slow and quite spellbinding set of movements from a  chorus member to interpret the feelings being sung. The actions highlighted the group lament beautifully, as the sound envelops the mute figure stepping and gesturing back and forth inside a tight arc  of singers and sound.

Apart from a few accessories, the ensemble perform in the concert in the same range of fairly modern clothing. The lighting complements the performers’ efforts via stencils across the floor, in spots on the singers or in colouring of the stage to team with the well executed movement.

Choruses of servant girls as well as peasants (Tchaikovsky’s  Eugene Onegin), nuns (Verdi’s Il Trovatore), soldiers (Gounod’s Faust) villagers (in a clever and expressively conceived  ‘Bell Chorus’ from Pagliacci) are presented here in a variety of well lit routines. Always the concepts highlight the evocative skills of the Opera Australia Chorus plus their supportive creatives and  tech crew.

Above: Opera Australia Chorus in ‘Chorus!’ Photo by Keith Saunders.

There are absolute blockbuster song choices from both the rousing and intimate extremes of the repertoire. In all cases the musical support of two pianos (Michael Curtain and Kate Johnson) help turn this backstage fantasy into a rewarding musical and visual vista.

We hear the ‘Barcarolle’ from Offenbach’s Tales From Hoffmann in this chic dance mix, also the ‘Anvil Chorus’ from Il Trovatore, some fine chorus sounds from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte and a pair of group pieces from Strauss IIs Die Fledermaus. This last opera’s ‘Champagne Polka, complete with magnum props is transformed into a hectic romp here.

It is the treatment of all hit choruses as individual dance numbers yet not entirely separate from what precedes and follows by hard working, quite brilliant movement co-ordinator Troy Honeysett which gives momentum here.

The Opera Australia Chorus conquers all challenges in this racy pastiche and emerges in the well deserved spotlight following a huge, capable effort, with both energy and exemplary group vocal nuances unflagging throughout. Not to be missed.

Chorus! continues at the Dame Joan­ Sutherland Theatre on Feb 11 and 24 as well as Mar 4 and 10.




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