Theatre Review: Waltzes From Vienna

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Presented by South Australian Light Opera Society
Reviewed 26th April, 2018

With a steady One – Two – Three, SALOS whisks us back for three generous hours to the glamorous Vienna of 1845, and the melodic wellspring from which André Rieu’s fiddle still draws saleable music today.  The music of the show consists of a glorious grab-bag of popular Johann Strauss music – compositions by both Strauss the Dad and Strauss the Lad.

The slight plot (could we call it a ‘ploteretta’?) explores Strauss Senior’s publicly expressed disgust with his son’s musical compositions, labelling them rubbish; papa insists that Johann Junior find himself some other employment. Since Johann’s composer father is famous as The Waltz King of Vienna, his pronouncements carry great weight in the city. In true operetta fashion, persistent Johann Junior gets his chance to shine, aided by a conniving Russian countess, the Captain of the Russian Embassy guard, a manic pâtissier and a comical Court tailor.

What director Pam Tucker has achieved is a tribute to her energy and vision: she has marshalled thirty enthusiastic performers, costumed them brightly and appropriately, and made ingenious use of the fairly stark flat stage area of the Tower. Stage-left is partitioned off to house the eight-piece orchestra.  There are no flats and set furnishing is minimal. Tucker wisely keeps her cast front and centre in this production.

From the first note of music to the last, this show is completely unplugged. What, no mics? Yes – all instruments and all voices are unamplified. This brings a refreshing sound quality to digitally jaded ears and reminds patrons about the “O” in SALOS. It might be “light”, but it sure is “opera”. However, this excellent choice gives an added burden to Musical Director Helen Loveday. She constantly does her best to achieve acoustic balance between orchestra and singers in an annoyingly over-bright room. This may have been a factor in some of her slower-than-standard tempi.

Despite a careful reading of the informative programme, I failed to find anyone who took responsibility for the lighting design.

As the character around whom the story revolves, Johann Strauss Junior needs huge energy and focus to propel this creaky plot forward. Mercifully, Christian Evans has precisely what is needed – great inner calm, excellent acting initiative, vocal strength when needed, splendid legato phrasing and spot-on articulation. His sincerity and constant clarity of intent mark him as an outstanding actor/singer.

The two main soprano roles are elegantly balanced. As Lina, young Johann’s beloved, Katrin Treloar has a strong, accurate voice with very pleasing timbre, but less convincing acting skills. As Countess Olga, Danielle Ruggiero-Prior maintains a consistent spoken Russian accent throughout the show, and her hauteur, articulatory clarity and utterly reliable acting create a spine for the show. Her vocal quality is lovely, and imperious without being forced.

Hard-working Claire Langsford deserves a prize for her soubrette role of Mitzi. She never looks disinterested on stage, remains wholly focussed within the action at all times, and manages to make each of her comic scenes both convincing and clear. She works well with gangly Greg Paterson, who has a gift of a comic role as dippy Viennese pastry-cook Ebeseder. Paterson’s articulation is copybook-clear, and his voice (both spoken and sung) is beautifully produced. Captain Vassili Vronsky, as played by Christopher Stansfield, is just right. He has military pomposity, attentive affection for his countess, and bright-as-a-button energy. His party piece at the start of Act 3 (“Tonight’s a night we’ll all recall”) injected brio into the show just when it was needed. (It was 20 to eleven, and my bum had gone to sleep, despite cushions on those dreadful chairs.)

Andrew Trestrail, as Vogl the tailor, tended to over-egg his comic role; if he trusted the underlying sincerity of his text, however frail it may seem, it would help him to add both dimension and richer comedy to his character. As his son, Leopold, Ryan Smith looked perfect for the awkward young suitor; his light singing voice was, however, a victim of orchestral balance.

In the major non-singing role, Brian Godfrey plays Papa Strauss himself, the cause of all the commotion. Bombastic, opinionated and as entitled as hell – it’s a great character, and I predict it will grow throughout the run. Dapper in exquisite formal wear and fluffy grey muttonchop whiskers, glowering Godfrey frequently looks like an angry possum.

After an uncertain start, the chorus gained in clarity, unity and harmonic serendipity.  By the end of the show, they sounded confident and musically satisfying.  It’s all the fault of that infectious waltz lilt, which permeates the evening, driving the show, and even continuing out the door with the departing audience. “Waltzes From Vienna” is a delightful infection, artfully administered with evident love and energy by Tucker and her SALOS cohort.

Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson

Venue: Tower Arts Centre, Pasadena
Season: 26th – 29th April, 2018
Tickets:  $11 – $25
Bookings:

Disclaimer: Brian Godfrey is the Arts Editor for Glam Adelaide

 

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