What's on stage in Melbourne?
There are few musical theatre songs that have attained the anthem status bestowed upon ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’. Most composers dream of creating just one tune so universally hummable – the kind that keeps the money rolling in in the form of royalty cheques long after the composer has passed on. Andrew Lloyd Webber, who penned that earworm for his 1978 musical-cum-rock opera, Evita, is responsible for a handful of them. So it’s quite a moment when, at the start of Evita’s second act, Australia’s own Tina Arena steps forward on the balcony of the Casa Rosada as Argentina’s controversial first lady, Eva Perón, to deliver the song. The clarity and warmth of her voice is astonishing as she, along with the Opera Australia orchestra, weaves a musical tale of triumph and yearning. And, of course, it’s glorious. Wrenching. The kind of singing that makes you hold your breath, anticipating the next phrase. The stuff that musical theatre dreams are made of. Eva is declaring her love to the working-class people of Argentina, who’ve just elected her husband to power. She appears to be pouring her heart out and seducing the nation. And then, something unexpected happens. She turns away from the crowd, her whole demeanour changes – the spell of seduction is broken – and she sings nefariously to her husband: “Just listen to that, the voice of Argentina. We are adored, we are loved.” That cynicism and winking eye is a large part of the appeal of Evita, which tracks the meteoric rise o
Wagner’s final opera, shimmering with the reflected ecstasies of death, was first performed in 1882, the year before the composer’s own demise – but for some reason it’s never been seen in Australia in a fully staged production. Maybe this dates back to the strict controls Wagner placed on its performance before he died; concert versions were legally all anyone outside of Bayreuth were allowed to see until 1914. There’s certainly no impediment from a production perspective, if Victorian Opera’s effortless result is any measure. Sure, it’s long at over four hours, but then most of Wagner is, and stood against the entirety of Der Ring des Nibelungen at 15 hours, it’s a breeze. Parsifal develops many of the musical innovations that define Wagner’s earlier body of work – with as refined an application of the leitmotif as one is ever likely to hear – but it also diverts in interesting ways. Wagner was always a fan of symbols, but they’d never been as overtly Christian as here, with the Holy Grail and the spear used to wound Christ on the way to Golgotha functioning as major plot devices. There’s a heavy liturgical bent to the libretto, but there’s thankfully nothing churchy about the music. Parsifal (Burkhard Fritz) enters the world of the Grail knights as an “innocent fool”, wandering around the action without a clue, rather like the Ring’s Siegfried. The king, Amfortas (James Roser) has been wounded by Christ’s spear in the castle of Klingsor (Derek Welton), and the wound will