Mary Stuart review - Stage Whispers

At the moment Melbourne has an embarrassment of operatic riches. Thirty years ago we had the Australian Opera, Victorian State Opera and an occasional amateur performance. Now we still have Opera Australia, Victorian Opera, which emerged from the ashes of the VSO, and several semi-professional companies providing lots of work and doing exciting productions.

Melbourne Opera, based at the Athenaeum Theatre, broke away from CitiOpera and, as a point of difference, perform exclusively in English. Many roles were shared in early productions with varying degrees of success.

There was no sharing in this production and all roles were cast from singers with international experience. In the title role we had Elena Xanthoudakis, returning to her home town while pursuing a very successful career in Europe. I have followed her progress since I first heard her as a teenager, and was very pleased to hear how far she has come. Her voice now has a warmth and maturity I hadn’t heard before. She was a suitably strong yet vulnerable Queen, and met every vocal demand.

As her nemesis, Rosamund Illing presented an imperious Queen Elizabeth with strong vocals, who was a good foil for her younger rival. Henry Choo was in terrific voice as the Earl of Leicester, and Caroline Vercoe, Phillip Calcagno and Eddie Muliaumaseli’i all made the most of their considerable talents.

I attended the VSO production in 1975 with Nance Grant and June Bronhill and remember some brilliant singing, but an ordinary production, probably standard for the time. This was anything but, and is the major difference at Melbourne Opera in 2015. The Tudor Rose was a recurring theme on the floor and front curtain, and the arches at the side seemed to hover threateningly over the performers.

Even when the chorus was on stage, the small stage did not appear as crowded as it has in the past and the steps at the back gave extra levels to add interest. The direction was strong and the relationships between the characters well defined. The costumes, borrowed from Opera Australia, were gorgeous.

This was a very impressive production of a rarely heard opera and deserves to be sold out.

Graham Ford


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