Couch Opera presents Vienna to Hollywood & Broadway at Camelot Theatre
Jewish artists fleeing nazi persecution to the golden age of American musicals inspired From Vienna to Hollywood and Broadway, a pastiche of operetta, movie and stage composition by writer-director Gregory Yurisich playing at Mosman Park’s Camelot Theatre.
Think, Cabaret 2: The Aftermath.
It’s a good fit for Couch Opera, the online creation of sopranos Magda Lisek and Jillian Halleron during COVID isolation, making work for artists stranded across the globe.
And the buzz of accents on Saturday reflected migrants from Europe and Asia finding a place in WA’s arts scene.
As the overture rolled on Michael Schouten’s keyboard, visions of a grand palace with gleaming chandelier set the scene for 1920s Austria and the opening number, Let’s go to Varasdin, from Emmerich Kalman’s Grafin Mariza.
Lisek joined soprano Yann Kee, tenor Jun Zhang and baritone Matt Dixon – four amigos from last year’s Couch Opera stage show – in Schuhplatt dance and slapstick with crisp German diction; all four artists more assured musically and dramatically than in the immediate aftermath of lockdown.
Zhang found full voice and engagement in Komm Zigany (Grafin Mariza) while Kee was powerful yet nuanced for Toujours L’Amour (Paul Abraham’s Ball im Savoy), one of several torch songs through the night.
Lisek and Dixon paired for Durch diesen Kuss (Carl Millocker’s Bettelstudent), their duet evoking magic amid Machiavellian manoeuvre; perhaps a metaphor for a disrupted world finding art in a suburban cinema.
The first big show number, La bella Tangolita (Ball im Savoy) introduced mezzo Ileana Rinaldi and tenor Tom Buckmaster to the mix; Rinaldi commanding a comically subservient chorus line with a dash of Hollywood bravura, her mature tones caressing the lilting Latin rhythms.
A medley of Robert Stolz songs rounded out the section before Puccini’s Humming Chorus (Madama Butterfly) summoned more familiar sounds and images with America the Beautiful, God Bless America and Hooray for Hollywood.
English idiom seemed to quicken the pace, Lisek bringing sparkle and a voice rich in technicolor to Sweethearts (Victor Herbert), while the boys played three melodramatic Stooges in Stout-hearted Men (The New Moon, Sigmund Romberg) and Kee again found love in Romance (The Desert Song, Romberg), singing cabaret-style at the piano, lavish and enticing.
Dixon found delicacy in Love for Love (Escape Me Never, Erich Korngold), before Serenade (The Student Prince) rocked out the section with nostalgia and pizzazz.
Dixon and Schouten joined forces at the piano for Give my regards to Broadway (George M. Cohan), a surprise introduction to a Rodgers and Hammerstein medley, with nods to South Pacific, Oklahoma, State Fair, Carousel and The Sound of Music.
Kurt Weill’s songbook served memorable moments for Dixon in Mack the Knife (Threepenny Opera) and Lost in Stars; for Rinaldi in Trouble Man (Lost in Stars) – pathos personified in sorrowful regret; and for Kee in I’m a Stranger Here Myself (One Touch of Venus), poignantly exploring the existential dilemma.
Finally, Frank Loesser’s Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat (Guys and Dolls) - from a non-refugee composer - combined American spiritual with the Jewish-Euro tradition; and Sposalizio (The Most Happy Fella) channeled Italian folk culture.
In encore, Meredith Willson’s Goodnight my Someone (Music Man) serenaded the audience with rich romantic harmony.
From Vienna to Hollywood and Broadway is on again Friday and Saturday, November 12 and 13, 7.30pm, at Camelot Theatre.
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