In their second outing for this year, Lyric Opera brings to the stage Gioachino Rossini’s and Giuseppe Maria Foppa’s slight and irreverent one act comic opera Il signor Bruschino. The result is a frothy, frivolous, fun, not to mention affordable evening at the opera. In fact, I could not think of a more delightful start to my week, a sentiment that was clearly shared by a majority of the opening night audience.

Lyric Opera are to be commended for the continued commitment for providing exposure to some of Melbourne hottest up and coming talents and have assembled a first rate creative team whose passion and commitment is infectious.

Rarely performed, this is light opera with a capital L. It is a deliberately superficial farce that would collapse if the company weren’t at the top of the comedic game. Seasoned director Lara Kerestes under the mentorship of Suzanne Chaundy proves herself more than up to challenge and I look forward to seeing her work in future (She’s collaborating with Matt Lutton on Edward II at Malthouse later in the year).

Being opening night there were occasional pacing problems which resulted in the action not being crisp enough to compensate for the superficiality of the plot. As charming as it is, it doesn’t reach the glorious satirical potential of Gilbert and Sullivan. Young lovers Sofia and Florville are forbidden to wed as Florville is the son her father, Gaudenzio’s rival, who has conveniently died. As it happens she is betrothed to the wayward son of Signor Bruschino who nobody has actually met and is currently being detained by Filberto the café owner for outstanding debt. Their union is dependent on Florville passing himself off as Bruschino jr to everyone including the boy’s own father in time for he and Sofia to safely wed. Absurd, but relatively easy to follow. Though I completely understand the creative decision to perform this production in English, the result is a mixed bag. The enunciation of a majority of the cast is inconsistent; whilst they all have glorious voices, their diction needs to be significantly crisper if the audience is to keep up. We don’t have the benefit of subtitles had the libretto been performed in Italian.

The orchestra, however, is an aural delight; under the baton of Pat Miller, Rossini’s playful, effervescent score is given the lush treatment it deserves. Special mention must go to Kim Tan’s beautiful mid-act cor anglais solo.

Photo Credit: Kris Washusen

Photo Credit: Kris Washusen

Despite some being more comfortable in the style than others the cast are uniformly excellent and are all in exquisite vocal form. Shanul Sharma as Florville eased into his performance nicely despite being relatively low key in his opening aria and first duet with Sofia. However as the plot progressed, his performance came alive and he proved to be an adept comic actor in addition to his sensuous tenor.

Bruce Raggat as the neurotic and perpetually flustered Signor Bruschino is in spectacular form throughout, he completely embodies the absurdity of the situation and delights with a rich, flamboyant performance. Matt Thomas (Gaudenzio) is perhaps given the most thankless role as Sofia’s deceived father and is appropriately rigid but finds a few subtle moments of dry humor. Genevive Dickson as Mariana, Gaudenzio’s assistant elevates every appearance with some fantastic background business, she is an absolute delight throughout.

Photo Credit: Kris Washusen

Photo Credit: Kris Washusen

It is Rebecca Rashleigh that comes closest to walking away with the evening. Her voice is divine, her stage presence indomitable and her acting as good as her voice. Her interpretation of Sofia is rich and multi layered; at once sly and coquettish. Judging from her bio she’s already making her mark on the opera scene both locally and abroad, and she can count me among her fans. I spent a good portion of the train ride home casting her in other roles (I narrowed it down to Musetta from La Boheme and Mabel from Pirates of Penzance). 

Bernie Leon, Cameron Sibly and Rapheal Wong round out the ensemble with strong supporting performances.

Whilst I question the wisdom of performing this production in the round (there were a few lapses in staging and the cast were dwarfed by the sheer size of the stage) Jake Milne’s set is classy and elegant and is a fantastic base for Lucy Wilkins’ bold and flamboyant costumes. Her innovation and attention to detail is an absolute treat in itself.

Some might question the relevance of resurrecting this particular opera and the relevance it has on today’s audience and I can only imagine they lack imagination. It’s pure escapist entertainment and a good time never goes out of style.

Il Signor Bruschino runs at Chapel off Chapel until the 12th of June. Lyric Opera’s next production is Our man in Havana, performed at the Athenaeum from the 17th-24th of September.

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