A Canberra twist on Mozart

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From left, David Pearson, Keren Dalzell, Tegan Scott and Ken Goodge.

Music / “The Prime Ministerial Impresario”. Directed by Stephanie McAlister, music by Mozart, libretto by Robert Little. Art Not Apart, March 16-17. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.

MOZART’S 1786 comic opera “The Impresario” is at once a silly piece of theatrical fluff and an excuse for some glorious singing, as was evident in Canberra Opera’s “The Prime Ministerial Impresario”, commissioned by the Art Not Apart festival and performed over the weekend.

With a lot of dialogue and only four vocal numbers in the score, it runs for less than an hour and has long been regarded as a prime candidate for contemporary re-writing.
In the original, written for one of Emperor Joseph II’s luncheons, two equally self-opinionated sopranos are pitted against each other as the hapless impresario tries to placate each one.

In this rewrite by Robert Little, the impresario is none other than Prime Minister Scott Morrison, played against gender by Tegan Scott and aided by his Machiavellian offsider, Tony Abbott (David Pearson) with occasional interventions from the outsider on the way up, Peter Dutton (Ken Goodge). Pauline Hanson (Keren Dalzell) and Kerryn Phelps (Karyn Tisdell) are the warring divas.

This is a difficult project for director Stephanie McAlister to pull off and it needed a little more fluidity, even if the characters were playing stereotypes.

Stylised make-up by Dakota Armitstead-Hansen adds a note of verisimilitude to otherwise stilted portrayals, although Pearson, the most experiences of the actor-singers captures Abbott’s gestures to a tee.

Dalzell as Pauline Hanson looks but does not sound the part, while Goodge as Dutton and Karyn Tisdell as Phelps look nothing like their characters.
But no matter, the audience is in on the joke.

Little’s libretto is diverting, with references to ex-coppers, potato farmers and the PM’s devotion to the Cronulla Sharks. One-liners such as Abbott‘s claim: “Our church is not built on lies” and Hanson’s entry line: “I’m making an absolute fortune hunting cane toads” drew hearty laughter from the audience.

Little has created a largely sympathetic portrayal of Morrison, caught between Hanson, who sings “Immigration, disgusting” and Phelps, who insists that refugees be returned. He winds the story up with a complicated set of prime ministerial handovers, culminating in a toast to the new “policy free government” in the quartet, “now we’re in business”.
But the singing was very fine, supported  Colleen Rae-Gerrard at the forte piano, Helena Popovic on violin, Serena Ford on flute and Imogen Thompson on cello.

As it is with in  original Mozart, (“Ich bin die erste Sängerin”) the trio with the battling divas and Dutton proves  a high point and Dalzell’s coloratura variations on the words, “please explain” steals the show.

Set against a clever cut-out caricature of the Prime Ministerial suite, this modest production could easily travel, but Canberra Opera had better be quick – the story may have completely changed by May.


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Helen Musa
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