State Opera SA @ Festival Theatre
7:30pm, Tue 5 Mar 2002
Short Review: Hmmmmm…
“El Nino” is very much the flagship production for the 2002 Festival of the Arts and, while offering some interesting bi-lingual operatics, one certainly hopes this is not the highpoint of the Festival.
Dealing with the miracle of Mary’s impregnation, up to several days after Jesus’ birth, the libretto is (apparently) sourced from many Biblical texts, as well as a selection of poetry. In addition to the operatic piece, there is a much-publicised film by ex-Festival Director Peter Sellars that runs silently in the background (just below the surtitles), highlighting the experiences of the principal players.
Well, now for the critical stuff: “El Nino” is presented in two acts, which I’m going to call Good Act and Bad Act, respectively. Good Act opens with some magnificent singing from the Chorus, beautifully arranged. The soloists… well, more on them in a minute. The film was well directed, the “acting” perhaps a little dodgy, but it’s essentially background material anyway. And the end of this act (leading to the birth of Jesus) was sheer aural bliss.
Then came the second… er, Bad Act. The wonderful arrangements for the Chorus disappeared, the film was dull and repetitive and lifeless and repetitive and lifeless and repetitive. And then came the Children’s Chorus. I saw the kids come onstage and instantly thought, “oh no…”. Some people actually left at this point, mere moments before the end of the production. Anyhoo, big round of applause from the two-thirds capacity audience who hung around for the second Act (a few left, y’see, and there were gaping holes in the audience before starting).
The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, as per usual, were excellent. The vocal leads, on the other hand were patchy… I didn’t think much of the opportunities offered to them by the piece, but the two females excelled where the males floundered somewhat – soprano Shu-Cheen Yu was superb throughout, and mezzo-soprano Kirsti Harms suffered only in that she blew all the other vocalists off the stage.
So, at the end of the day, this was an experience – not the flagship operatic sensual tour-de-force that Writing to Vermeer was in 2000, but interesting enough to stay on the right side of the waste-of-money-meter.