Reviews: Laughter and Tears

15 Aug 2016

​Victorian Opera’s Laughter and Tears mesmerised audiences on opening night. 'Tears' flowed during Leoncavallo’s tragic masterpiece Pagliacci, but only after the uproarious 'Laughter' at the commedia dell’arte chaos of the first act.

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Photography: Jeff Busby

The Age — ★★★★

'Laughter and Tears, staged with drive and imagination, is a tribute to the company. This is not simply another opera performance: it is something to make you reflect and rejoice as well as laugh and cry.'

'What gives Laughter and Tears its motivation and genius are two things. First is its setting and period: a provincial Italian theatre immediately before, then just after, World War II. This transition from harlequinade to blackshirt focuses the sinister mood and sharpens the senses. Certainly, the commedia, possibly even more so than Cavalleria, provided a more natural and understandable bridge to the darker deeds exposed and avenged in Pagliacci.'

'The second great thing about Laughter and Tears was the inclusion of five performers from Circus Oz, which is Australia's own take on commedia dell'arte and, as it turned out, absolutely integral to the comedy, drama and action of Emil Wolk's excellent production.'

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Photography: Jeff Busby

The Australian

'Victorian Opera’s Laughter and Tears sets an exciting new standard for imaginative programming.'

'It was a fluid, simply staged and highly engaging production. The exceptionally gifted Circus Oz performers delivered seemingly insouciant, gobsmackingly brilliant physical theatre, circus and comedy. They were complemented by an ensemble of leading soloists and fine emerging singers, many of them in Victorian Opera’s successful professional development program.'

'In Laughter were beautiful performances of nearly two dozen vocal and instrumental works, drawn from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Pagliacci was much more ­gritty.'

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Photography: Jeff Busby

Limelight  — ★★★★

'Victorian Opera’s latest show, produced in collaboration with Circus Oz, delivers plenty of the advertised emotional commodities and does indeed leave us better off at the end of the experience.'

'The “tears” come presented in an engaging and relatively straightforward production of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, while the “laughter” is designed as a prelude to that well-loved verismo piece; contextualising the story and offering a pastiche of late Renaissance and Baroque vocal and instrumental morsels (including works from Monteverdi and Scarlatti through to Gesualdo) deftly chosen and orchestrated by Richard Mills, who also conducts.'

'A number of things impressed about the production. The collaboration between VO and Circus Oz was one of those remarkable instances of artistic stars perfectly aligning.'

'Elvira Fatykhova admirably balances the vulnerable side of Nedda’s character with her determination to love freely. By the time her important aria Stridono lassù arrived, her voice was in full bloom. The aerobatics that accompanied the aria elicited as much opening-night applause as her singing.'

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Photography: Jeff Busby

Simon Parris: Man in Chair

'Leaders in arts innovation, Victorian Opera delivers ingeniously conceived new program Laughter and Tears, the entertainment value of which is significantly enhanced by a fruitful collaboration with Circus Oz.'

'In a further stroke of synergistic ingenuity, Mills has utilised the music of a dozen or so composers whose work was originally inspired by the ongoing popularity of commedia dell’arte in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Richly re-orchestrated by Mills, and played by a sizable contingent of Orchestra Victoria in the Palais Theatre’s large open pit, the music sounds magnificent.'

'The madcap zannis are played by with highly physical flair by Kate Fryer, Geoff Dunstan, DJ Garner and Luke Taylor, with Tim Coldwell as doddering fool Capitano. As well as delivering plenty of visual slapstick humour, these performers from Circus Oz also perform gravity-defying stunts that are neatly tied in to the narrative action. When Dunstan swings high overhead as star soprano Elvira Fatykhova sings Nedda’s birdsong “Stridono lassù,” it is a thrilling highlight of the evening.'

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'Rosario La Spina is in superb voice as tragic clown Canio. His “Vesti la giubba,” performed in front of the Palais’ sumptuous red velvet curtain, is brightly sung yet darkly coloured. La Spina’s vocal strength is characterised by a powerful level of control that allows a full, open sound of unwavering focus. La Spina’s commanding voice also has a unique warmth that adds to the pleasure of hearing him sing.'

'Laughter and Tears achieves the rare balancing act of providing enough opera content for purists and enough entertainment value to captivate theatregoers of all ages and interests.'

Laughter and Tears was part of Victorian Opera's Season 2016.