With Opera Australia’s Sydney home, the 1500-seat Joan Sutherland Theatre, in the Sydney Opera House, closed for the rest of the year for renovations, the company is presenting its productions in the Sydney Opera House’s 400-seat Playhouse Theatre instead. This is a rare opportunity to witness up-close some of the spectacular talents of Opera Australia in an intimate setting.
Two Weddings, One Bride is a new production which offers this unique thrill, with a cast of six, including both opera veterans and rising stars in lead roles on the small stage, accompanied by just piano and violin. It is a pastiche operetta, crafted by conductor (and the pianist for this production) Robert Andrew Greene. Famous music by Johann Strauss, Offenbach, Lehar, Kalman and Stolz is weaved into a farcical plot taken from an unknown work by nineteenth-century French composer Charles Lecocq. The English libretto is largely Greene’s own lyrics and dialogue.
The action is set in 1941 French Morocco, and sees the pompous, bumbling Governor (John Bolton-Wood) and his hard-boiled, matriarchal wife (Geraldine Turner) attempting to have their identical twin daughters, Giroflé and Girofla (Julie Lea Goodwin) wedded off for money. Add a dapper suitor, a fascist, some pirates, and stir.
Lameness of wit and silliness of plot go with the territory with operetta. Two Weddings, One Bride is, true to the recipe, a frivolous story set in an exotic location, laced with romance and risqué humour. It is funny, flirty, frolicking fluff, just as it is meant to be. The self-aware comedic acting and stylised choreography make this clever and ironic instead of ridiculous, helping the genre stand up to modern taste and analysis.
Goodwin, a rising star at OA, lights up the stage whenever she appears, whether as Giroflé or Girofla. Her vocals and acting are equally impressive. Her brightly coloured, crystalline soprano bounces and bubbles, matching her large-eyed, doll-like facial expressions and movements. She manages to clearly differentiate between the twins vocally, as well as characterise their individual personalities and energies – one submissive and one sassy. Even through the more intricate passages of the score Goodwin shines with vivacious confidence.
Each of the other five cast members have well-trained, well-projected voices, which can be fully appreciated in the smaller venue. They portray their stock comic roles as deliberate caricatures, keeping the style cohesively lightweight.
Greene presides at the piano with class and experience, accompanied by the virtuosic Yuhki Mayne on violin. The spliced musical works come together to create an organic, vibrant score, that keeps the action bouncing along.
Two Weddings, One Bride is, as director Dean Bryant puts it, ‘a valentine to a ridiculous and glorious artform’. While it by no means aspires to be a sophisticated piece of drama, the simple charms of the light-hearted comic romp, married with spectacular musical talent, result in a night of beguiling diversion.
Alicia Tripp is the Theatre Specialist for The Plus Ones, reviewing the premiere concerts, symphonies, operas, ballets and stage shows in Sydney. She is a seasoned arts and music critic, as a former journalist for the ABC Limelight magazine and State of the Arts. She has a degree in Media & Communications, English and Music from the University of Sydney.
Two Weddings, One Bride plays at the Playhouse, Sydney Opera House until October 22. Purchase tickets now. The venue is accessible.