It’s the opening night of Perth Festival of The Arts and I’m starting to think I may have bitten off more than I can chew. It’s my second time covering this festival, which now in it’s 47th year, is even older than I am. I got a bit carried away when I was given carte blanche to review what I wanted and now I’m faced with the slightly daunting prospect of writing five reviews of everything ranging from theatre to comedy, and big band to folk. First up though is Opera.
My experience of Opera is limited to the time when I was holidaying in Australia and decided on a whim to buy a ticket to see ‘The Barber of Seville’ at Sydney Opera House. I immediately started to panic because I was travelling light and my wardrobe consisted entirely of garish shorts and t-shirts that I feared I wouldn’t fit in with Sydney’s metropolitan elite. That was nearly ten years ago though, and it’s a more sophisticated man that takes his seat to review the English Touring Opera’s production of Mozart’s 'The Marriage of Figaro'.
It soon becomes clear that this version of Mozart’s beloved opera has a lot to offer a modern audience. It almost goes without saying that the score is amazing. However, the performance by the orchestra is also sublime and the music is well worth the price of admission on its own. It is great to see how the floor at the front of Perth Concert Hall has been pulled up to incorporate an orchestra pit. I had no idea they could do that. Where the fun really begins though, is with the text (or libretto as we oscar buffs say), which in this version has been translated from the original Italian into English. 'Figaro' has enough love-triangles, secret meetings and illicit affairs to fuel the plot-lines of a dozen soap operas or Netflix box sets. Also, (spoiler alert), it features a sexual predator getting his comeuppance, which in the era of Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump is quite a prescient and attractive proposition.
Something I really wasn’t prepared for though was how outright funny the evening would be. Reviewer Mark Kermode often talks about his six laugh test for comedy films and if you applied it to this opera it would certainly pass with flying colours. I’m not talking polite laughs or mild titters either. 'The Marriage of Figaro' is laugh-out-loud funny. Much of this stems from the original source material but the engaging cast also bring a lot to the table.
Ross Ramgobin’s Figaro is more than just a meer fall guy. He is by turns both sympathetic and hilarious, but it is Katherine Aitken as the unfortunate young Cherubino who threatens to steal nearly every scene she's in. Not only does she have a killer voice but she also has an impressive talent for verbal and physical comedy, and she can do pratfalls and double entendres with the best of them. As the cast take a well-earned bow I’m beginning to think that we’ve got one hell of a festival ahead of us and I can’t wait to check out Jools Holland tomorrow night.
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