Opera Goes West


Presented by No Tenors Allowed
Reviewed Friday 8th July 2011

Venue: X-Space, AC Arts, Light Square, Adelaide
Season: 7pm, 14th, 15th, 18th and 20th July and 5pm, 10th and 17th July 2011
Duration: 55 mins incl interval
Tickets: adult $22/conc $18
Bookings: or e-mail [email protected]

For something a little different, pay a visit to the latest production from No Tenors Allowed. This production uses three short, one act operas and sets them in and around a saloon in the old American west. Direction is by Graham Self, with Producer, Blake Parham as Co-Director, and they have melded these three into a single setting with considerable skill.

The music of Jacques Offenbach begins this production with Two Blind Beggars (Les Deux Aveugles). Tenors, Ian Andrew and Andrew Crispe, are the two beggars, Zacharia Morgan and Mr. Buffles, setting up either side of the door to the saloon to beg for money from the patrons entering the establishment. One plays trombone, the other a guitar, and both sing, but they are rivals. They are also charlatans, and we hear how they had met before, one pretending to have lost an arm, the other a leg. With their dark glasses on they do not immediately recognise one another. They enter into a contest, telling tall tales of their blindness, and briefly decide to cooperate, then try to cheat each other out of their meagre takings.

Andrew and Crispe add some well choreographed slapstick humour to their fine musical performances, feeling their way around with their sticks, bumping into one another and ending up with each other's instruments. Musical Director, Ian Boath, plays the trombone part and an extra laugh was found when Andrew lowered his trombone before the final note.

Boath has an excellent group of musicians under his control and they provide sensitive accompaniment, handling with ease the three distinctly different styles in the three operas. Pianist, Tanika Richards, even has a small role in the third opera.

Samuel Barber's A Hand of Bridge, op. 35, finds two bored couples playing cards, but their minds are not on the game. Baritone, Spencer Derby, is David, a bank clerk, and soprano, Brooke Window, is his wife, Geraldine. They are playing against Bill, sung by Ian Andrew, and his wife, Sally, contralto, Bethany Ide. They start with the bidding, with subtle cheating, until they end with Bill's contract of five hearts.

As they play, their attentions drifts as Sally thinks longingly of a hat she has seen for sale, Bill remembers his lover Cymbeline, and wonders if his wife is aware of her her, Geraldine ponders on her dying mother and wishes that she had had a better relationship with her, and David thinks of what it would be like to be as rich as his boss, Mr. Pritchett. Their poker faces conceal more than their hands of cards. The four distinct musical themes begin to drift in and out of one another, creating intricate harmonies in some superb vocal work by these marvellous singers as they indicate that there is more going on below the surface.

George Gershwin's Blue Monday was originally written for Afro-American singers and, like his later and full scale work, Porgy and Bess, has jazz and blues influences, as well as references to klezmer music in the clarinet part. Joe is a gambler and Vi is his girl, but the saloon singer, Tom, has an eye for her, too. Mike runs the saloon and tries to keep peace. Sam is the general help around the saloon whom Mike has to keep attentive to his duties.

The scene is set by Andrew Crispe, as Sam, as he sings Blue Monday Blues, expounding his views on the disadvantages of Mondays and pointing out that Monday is the day when things go wrong and people die. There is some nice work between Crispe and John Greene as Mike as Sam philosophises and Mike tries to keep him working. There is a gentle humour in their interactions.

There is drama, tragedy, jealousy, love, hate, lies and more compressed into this short opera, with strong work from Ian Andrew, as Joe, Brooke Window, as Vi, and Spencer Derby, as Tom. Derby's Tom is a nasty piece of work, as he convincingly portrays the arrogant and deceptive gambler, just as Andrew's Joe is clearly the good guy, honest, upright and attempting to slip away quietly to see his mother without telling Vi and putting her through a painful parting. Window's Vi is a fine mix of unconditional love for Joe, but with an irrational jealousy that is to be her downfall.

This third piece also, as one would expect with Gershwin's music, involves some dancing, and choreographer, Sue Pole, has added some very stylish moves, appropriate to both the music and the era. With a great set and costumes from Benjamin Galbraith and cleverly designed lighting by Anastasia Farley there is plenty to watch as well as to listen to in the excellent evening.

You have ample chances to catch a performance of this well devised, cleverly realised, relocated and rearranged trio of operas, presented by a talented and dedicated team of practitioners. Don't miss out.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

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