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Grand, romantic new production a great leap forward for Melbourne Opera
With this expansive new production of Tannhauser, Melbourne Opera takes not just a great leap forward but a hop-skip-and-jump across the road: from its normal cosy home at the Athenaeum to the palatial opulence of the Regent.
Certainly, the Regent is suited to grand romantic opera, andTannhauser fits the bill and the house accordingly. The acoustic, too, was surprisingly good, with orchestra, large chorus and singers sounding clear and seldom muddled. This was a focused and committed performance illuminated with moments of magnificence. Why, though, did the chorus sing in English, when the rest was in German?
Romanian tenor Marius Vlad, a youthful and vibrant Tannhauser, stayed the course of this cruel role, as did Lee Abrahmsen's excellent, dramatic Elisabeth. Sarah Sweeting brought seductive charm to Venus, and Manfred Pohlenz as Wolfram, serenaded his evening star with all due reverence. Eddie Muliaumaseali'i was a dignified Landgrave.
Conductor David Kram directed a swift, flowing performance from the Melbourne Opera Orchestra (noble trumpets, horns and harp), but, it must be said, there were occasional intonation problems, especially from the strings, which too often sounded threadbare and skittish.
Director Suzanne Chaundy, despite setting the work in "a parallel contemporary world" (one that accommodates clipboards as well as crosses), largely respects the broader tale of errant Tannhauser's journey from sin to redemption. Zoe Scoglio's telling video projections, on to Christina Logan-Bell's basic set, include an affectionate adaptation of the Regent's own architecture for the Hall of Song. Daniel Harvey's costumes and Lucy Birkinshaw's lighting complemented the stage picture.
Overall, this Tannhauser was indeed a significant achievement in which Melbourne Opera can take pride.
Review by Michael Shmith