Tag Archives: nz opera

Kátya Kabanová

NZ Opera’s Kátya Kabanová opens appealingly with mystery. The lovely Kátya (Dina Kuznetsova) appears in soft pink, pretty and delicate beneath a blanket of stars. An aura of childlike wonder surrounds the scene – I feel as if I am gazing at a moving scene in a picture book. A jolly science teacher praises the beauty of the river while a servant, unimpressed, disagrees. I lean back into my seat, enjoying the beautiful set and costumes, and being taken back in time.

The lyrical novel begins. Set in 1950s America, everyone is suited, booted and coiffed – the set similarly constructed to paint a picture of order and grace: religious symbols in the tidy house, a bleach-white picket fence, pruned trees, a high-flying American flag. It is Sunday, church day. At the conclusion of the service, the lawn is awash with bows and smiles.

Polite and perfect settings soon juxtapose strongly with emerging, unregulated emotions. It seems that a religious morning has done nothing to soothe the spirits of a conflicted husband, a domineering mother, a fiery adopted sister, a lonely woman, a cantankerous uncle, and a man trapped by his uncle’s demands and his hopeless love for a married woman. The river to me becomes a visual representation of the changing temperaments of the human soul – surging with secrets, calm one moment and stormy the next.

As always I loved the visual and musical feast that I have come to associate with NZ Opera’s commitment to excellence. Though set in 1950s America, there are many themes and threads which are relatable in any time – most of all the universal emotional experience that we, being human, undoubtably share. Terse, lyrical outbursts by the individualistic Leoš Janáček carry the character-driven plot forward as we follow Kátya’s footsteps through a journey of inner struggle and courage.

Though Kátya Kabanová is the New Zealand Opera’s final offering for 2017, it is by no means one that should be overlooked. The performances of the cast are bold, heartfelt and haunting. The 1950s in the USA certainly marked a time when men ruled both the workplace and the home but seldom their mothers. Kátya Kabanová is a moving example of how at times that formula could go so tragically wrong. Patrick Nolan, the director, and Genevieve Blanchett, the production designer, seem to have taken particular care to make sure that this notion was not lost on we, the audience.

Although a tragedy, which has been compared to Romeo and Juliet, Kátya Kabanová does provide enough by way of individual performances, breathtaking lighting and set designs to leave us with a satisfying smile at the end of it all. Over and above those, there are outstanding performances by Wyn Davies [conductor] and The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, as well as a spectacular audio-visual presentation which helped keep the suspended reality of Leoš Janáček’s vision and story completely alive and forbearing.

Kátya Kabanová has three more performances in Auckland this month before the production moves to Wellington’s St James Theatre for four dates from 7 October. For more details, see NZ Opera website.

Saturday, 16 September, 2017 – ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

Written with Jarred Tito

This post has also been published on Libel.

Image © NZ Opera via Facebook.

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Sweeney Todd

Dark and delightful.

NZ Opera’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street took me by surprise. It’s the fifth opera I have watched to date, the first one I have seen presented in English, and the first that thrilled me from start to finish.

When we settled into our plush seats, my eyes saw a simple set – but when the music and show began, I felt a curious sensation; I was no longer on land, but at sea. The luring music of the orchestra and chorus were as rippling waves in a dangerous ocean, surging with secrets that begged to be told. In the opening scene, I saw not a costumed cast, but living ghosts rising from the ground …

Many things come together to make the show what it is. Those accustomed to NZ Opera’s high standards will expect nothing less, and I am certainly once again impressed. Costumes, make-up and the simple but convincing set leave little need for imagination to make the world of Sweeney Todd feel too real for comfort.

As the program writely says – it is indeed “a journey from darkness to illuminated darkness”, brilliantly achieved through the use of contrast. One never escapes darkness throughout the night, but if black is a colour, one sees its many tones and shades, and thus revels in its startling beauty.

Steven Sondheim’s clever lyrics are a pure delight to take in, as is Johanna’s irresistible birdsong (Amelia Barry). The lively Mrs Lovett has me hooked from the time she provides a hearty, flour-dusted whiff of the “worst pies in London” (Antoinette Halloran). Todd’s unrelenting cold hands bring necessary chills and truly, I cannot imagine a better rendition of his role (Teddy Tahu Rhodes).

Darkness builds like a castle of waves as the show progresses – when Tobias goes through the horror of finding a fingernail and other human identifiers in his pie, I am right there with him in his terrible pit of revulsion. Cascading sound and the effective use of stage lights render me hot and cold at once, and I find myself drawing my scarf closer around my body; needing, somehow, a certain reassurance even as I revel in the masterful delivery of this violent tale.

I won’t be hungry for pie for a while, but I am certainly looking forward to my next serving of opera / theatre.

Verdict: An impressive performance by way of dark intrigue topped with a golden crust of spine-tingling humour and exemplary design. A feast which scares and beckons … by all means have your dinner, but leave some room for pie!

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – showing till 24 September 2016 at the Civic Theatre in Auckland. Don’t miss it.

See NZ Opera website for dates and times for Wellington and Christchurch shows.

This post has also been published on NZ Entertainment Podcast.

Images © David Rowland

Bejewelled buttermilk pancakes

Sunglasses wrapped like a fallen angel’s
~ John Kinsella, Divine Comedy – Canto of Wings

“Pancakes” – a word for any Dictionary of Words that Elicit Smiles. It seems to me that every time the word “pancakes” is uttered, ears prick up and faces start glowing with warm-fuzziness while mouths chime in on a chorus of “Mmmmm…”

I remember that four years ago, when I cooked so poorly that a certain flatmate tried to ban me from the kitchen permanently (I kid you not – he trembled on my Cooking Nights and once stood at the entrance to the kitchen begging to know what I would come up with this time)… one of the things I desperately wanted to learn to make was pancakes. I thought that if I could just make them, I would be well on my way to being a Wonder Woman in the kitchen. Wonder Woman in general. With Nigella coursing through my veins.

I did make pancakes that year. Sometimes they resembled good pancakes. Sometimes they did not. One time I made these blueberry pancakes that looked a great deal like a freckled face dotted with pimples and bruises. My friend Justin ate them with a bright smile, and then we sat down and watched “Star Wars” DVDs till Yoda snuggled into my eyelids.

I am sure that must be one of the reasons Justin and I are still good friends – I admire the qualities of humour and courage very much. (Justin likes berries and madness.)

Mastering the art of making pancakes was to me so synonymous with achieving success in cooking (plus I knew no one who disliked them), that I was pretty blind to the shortcomings of pancakes. It took me a while to realise I was more in love with the idea of being in love with pancakes, than actually in love with them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had jolly good pancake/crepe/hotcake meals. I remember in particular one pancake party my friend Hellie hosted a while ago – it kept me in a reverie for days afterwards! Also, I like maple syrup as much as anyone could like maple syrup, and they happen to take to pancakes exceptionally well :-)

It’s just that, good as they are, pancakes seldom taste as good as they look and smell to me. (Some say the same about coffee).

The truth is that, most of the time when I DO venture to eat pancakes, they excite me at the start, evoke boredom and a bloated stomach midway through the meal… and I leave the table sad.

So, all that said, I awoke at 6.30 this morning and was pretty surprised that I had a picture of pancakes in my head. I peeked at a few sites on Google, scribbled down a list of ingredients and decided to make a small batch of pancakes.

I had buttermilk, condensed milk and pomegranate seeds on hand, so that is how this recipe came into being.

And, you know, it wasn’t so bad.

    Bejewelled buttermilk pancakes
    Ingredients:
    1/4 cup flour
    1 tsp caster sugar
    1/2 tsp baking powder
    pinch of salt
    pinch of cinnamon (optional)
    pinch of lemon zest (optional)
    1 egg, separated
    1 tbsp melted butter
    1/4 cup buttermilk
    pomegranate seeds
    2-3 tbsp condensed milk
    Method:
    Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and cinnamon if using, then set aside.
    In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, egg yolk and butter. Add this to the dry ingredients and whisk together. Do not over-whisk.
    In a separate bowl, whip the egg white, then fold it into the above mixture.
    Heat a skillet over medium-low heat. Grease with a pat of butter or some olive oil (butter tastes better in this instance). When it shimmers, ladle batter on to the skillet, making pancakes of any size.
    I found these cooked pretty quickly – keep an eye on them and flip them before they burn (approximately 1-2 minutes)! Once the second side is lightly browned, rescue and keep them in a warm spot in your kitchen.
    Once they are all done, place a pancake on a clean plate, drizzle condensed milk and scatter pomegranate seeds on it, then add a pancake on top and repeat these steps till you have a sparkling pancake stack. Substitute condensed milk and pomegranate seeds with your favourite pancake toppings if you wish.
    Open the windows, greet the morning, and eat your meal with fork and knife.
    This recipe yields three small pancakes – when cooking for a crowd, you can probably adjust the dry ingredients to scale (i.e. 1/4 cup flour for three pancakes, 1/2 cup for six pancakes, etc) but I think you’ll have to adjust the number of eggs and amount of wet ingredients based on how your batter looks! This batter seems pretty forgiving, anyhow, so just experiment and have fun. Also, preheat the oven to 50°C and keep the stack of pancakes warm in the oven while you cook all of them.

P.S. Through a stroke of great fortune, I got a complimentary ticket to attend the opening night of Cav & Pag last night. Blood, jealousy, love, blue skies and the scent of orange trees. Pathos. Humour. Surprises. Themes reflected in colours, posture, juxtaposition. A moving stage set. Luring singing. Enjoyed the two hours of magic! In Auckland? Get your tickets here.