AS part of Opera Australia director Lyndon Terracini’s relentless drive to lure the general public into the Opera House, the company staged a gala opening on the weekend of “South Pacific,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical with more show-stopping songs per square centimetre than any other you can think of.
With everyone from Ita to Kamahl cramming into the auditorium, there was a huge crowd to give the singers and actors standing ovations again and again.
Terracini’s broadening of the term “opera” has offended some serious operagoers, but it’s hard not to like this elegant production, based on the 2008 Lincoln Center Theatre production from New York.
A top Australian cast was assembled for an interpretation that does not shy away from the racism attacked in Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyrics, especially in the number “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught”.
The seriousness of Rodgers and Hammerstein (racism, colonialism, wife-beating, Nazi fanaticism etc) cannot be ignored, even amidst the lush romanticism. The spare, minimal set by Michael Yeargan, featuring re-arrangeable Venetian blinds and a huge map of the Coral Sea similarly rejects a sentimental view of the tropics.
Eddie Perfect brings a quirky interpretation to the pragmatic character Navy Seabee Luther Billis, and is backed by a splendid male chorus of sailors and marines, one of the strongest fronted by OA in a while.
Kate Ceberano seems cast against type as Bloody Mary, but with her dynamic voice, stops the show with “Bali Hai”. As well, together with Australian tenor Daniel Koek as Lt Joseph Campbell, Ceberano creates a bleakly original version of “Happy Talk”.
Lisa McCune takes on the once-envied lead romantic part of Ensign Nellie Forbush, with exactly the right vocal quality and a light touch. This helps counteract the modern-day view of Nellie as a difficult role – a racist “hick” fromLittle Rock, Arkansas.
All of this leads me to the obvious. Every time bass-baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes steps into the lights as French planter Emile de Beqcue, the stage fairly ripples with excitement, with “Some Enchanted Evening” delivered to electrifying effect and some comic moments, too.
There’s a small problem with miking up an operatic singer such as Rhodes, (essential for performers from musicals) so powerful was the impact.
Suffice it to say, this is one musical that will have you singing all the way home.