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Melbourne Opera is a semi-professional company punching well above its weight, mainly due to considerable support from the opera loving public in Melbourne. The idea of a semi-professional company performing Tannhäuser is incredible, yet they triumphed magnificently.
The only concession to the non-professional nature of the over fifty voice chorus, was that they were permitted to sing in English in this German production, but their singing was so lusty and polished no one minded.
The highlight of the production was the computer graphics. During the Venusberg scene there was constantly moving water which evolved into naked figures. Then they morphed into mountains as Tannhäuser leaves the delights of Venusberg. It was magic. There was also a sloping ramp leading to an upper level, adding interest.
The audience then applauded the set for the second act, which again utilised multiple levels. It mirrored the magnificent Regent Theatre. At the end of that act the walls disintegrated.
The direction was excellent. There are long patches where there is no singing, and there was always meaningful movement to maintain interest.
The first act is set in Venusberg and featured the two internationals, Romanian Marius Vlad in the title role and English soprano Sarah Sweeting as Venus. Wagnerian voices are hard to come by, so it was not surprising that imports were required, and they were both worth importing. Marius was an ardent tenor while Sarah was a sexy Venus with a big voice.
However, they were overshadowed by local soprano, Lee Abrahmsen, as Elizabeth. Her rich, glorious voice poured out into the auditorium as if she was born to sing this music. It is only when she shared the stage with internationals that we realised how lucky we were to have someone of her quality.
There were no weak links in this cast, with Manfred Pohlenz singing a tender aria to the evening star as Wolfram, and Eddie Muliaumaseali’i as a sonorous Landgrave.
The orchestra was under the firm hand of David Kram, always supporting the singers without overpowering.
This could well be the highlight of the 2016 opera season.
Reviewer: Graham Ford