Opera Australia: The Phantom of the Opera

THE MAGIC OF THE PHANTOM CONTINUES…

More than 25 years after the original production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s blockbuster The Phantom of the Opera hit the stage, the magic is still there in this latest production from Opera Australia.

Those who remember the earlier Australian productions with Anthony Warlow or Rob Guest in the title role, will notice a difference in this new presentation of the well-known show, and it’s largely a positive one.

The most noticeable difference is in the characterisation of the Phantom himself. Josh Piterman’s Phantom is a much younger man, and until the dénoument is a handsome one, who has been twisted and tortured by life to become the villain who kidnaps the woman and muse he is obsessed with. It’s a towering performance from Piterman, both vocally and dramatically, and it’s easy to see why he was a smash hit in the role on London’s West End. His flawless diction also added to my enjoyment. As a personal aside, I derived great joy from remembering Piterman nearly 20 years ago as a teenager in music theatre shows in Melbourne over the summer holidays, and seeing the potential he showed then flower into the brilliant performer he is now. Most satisfying!

As his captive Christine, Amy Manford is a delight. With a soaring angelic voice, she is the perfect Christine. Originally trained at Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts, before heading overseas for further study and success in classical musicals, she embodies the delicacy and emotional tension of being desired by her captor and her true love perfectly. She is a pleasure both to watch and hear.

The third of this young trio of principals is Blake Bowden, who I remember from his training days at the Melbourne Opera Studio before he launched his highly successful career in professional shows. He is the perfect Raoul, with a beautiful, powerful but controlled voice that he uses both in a dramatic belt and in sotto voce intimate scenes. A handsome young man, he is the perfect romantic lead and his vocal duets with Manford were affecting and wonderful to hear.

Continuing the youth focus is Giuseppina Grech as the diva Carlotta. While Carlotta is often sung as a fading singer in jealous competition with the young ingénue Christine, Grech is a young and beautiful performer, both vocally and visually. She is the established young diva, confident of her talent and attraction, and Grech plays her as a vocal powerhouse who resents the focus on the chorus girl, but is puzzled rather than threatened by her ascension. She is ably partnered by operatic tenor Paul Tabone as Ubaldo Piangi, who is in excellent voice and the epitome of the brash tenor who knows his worth.

The smaller roles of the two theatre managers, Messieurs Andre and Firmin, are played respectively by Andy Morton and David Whitney. They show their years of experience in music theatre and opera, bringing strong vocals and fine characterizations to their crucial roles.

The ensemble is a mix of newer talent and a sprinkling of older voices, some of whom were in the original Phantom of the Opera, and it’s a fine mix.

Costumes are based on Maria Bjornson’s original designs, and have stood the test of time. They are a visual delight and transport us back to the atmosphere of the opera house of the time.

My one gripe was a technical one – on opening night, the amplification was overdone. When you have singers of this calibre, especially operatic soprano Giuseppina Grech, you simply don’t need a lot of ampflication, as it runs the risk of distortion. And initially, the fine Orchestra Victoria was amplified to the extent that it didn’t sound like the live orchestra we are used to. Perhaps there were some opening night nerves, as the amplification was much better controlled in the second Act.

And the other star of the show was the chandelier, which made us gasp as it descended towards the stalls. The technical wizardry right through the show was impressive, and the audience was captivated by the shock-horror atmosphere that it created.

This new Phantom of the Opera is a fine production worth seeing. Hopefully it will capture a new generation of theatre lovers the way it wowed their parents.

Photo credit: Daniel Boud

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Julie Houghton reviewed “Phantom of the Opera” presented by Opera Australia at Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre on November 4, 2022.




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