Monday, 2 February 2015

The Dummies Guide To Opera - Charlie & Friends (2 February 2015)

Take four very talented singers, one fashion-challenged accompanist, at least one dummy in the audience (raises hand… though in my defence Amadeus is one of my favourite movies and has excerpts from at least three Mozart operas so that has to count for something, right?) and a killer concept and you have a funny, entertaining and yes, damn it, educational show that is perfect for Fringe. 

I mean, I even learnt a new word tonight – Fach – which, contrary to my initial belief that I was being sworn at, is a form of categorising different voice types. Those crazy German opera buffs!

The show races through the entire chronology of opera in a sleek one hour that covers: different periods such as baroque, classical and romantic; giving hilariously twisted synopses of famous operas; explaining the different types of singers and their dominant personality traits; to most amusingly rating the major composers in opera’s long history. There was a wonderfully arcane formula to calculate each composer’s score to pronounce an eventual winner. My dear Wolfgang did not fare well in this exercise. It was, however, a great device to impart all kinds of weird and wonderful information about this roster of greats (okay, I knew of most of them but a couple were a little hazy).   

Then there was the singing; in different styles, from different periods, with many of the pieces instantly recognisable though some were a little more obscure for this dummy. And what wonderful voices they were, provided by Grace Edwards, Erin Jay Hutchinson, Warren Bracken and Charlie D. Barkle. The byplay between all four plus accompanist Timothy How was excellent with a lovely sense of chemistry as they played up to all the dramatic rivalries and stereotypes with glee. It was clear that while they were taking good-natured jabs at all the preconceptions opera can engender, there was a total love, respect, and joy here. I was also left in no doubt as to their knowledge both historical and technical which was impressive. The use of clever humour throughout plus a touch of class made this most entertaining.

Edwards in particular shines with a real twinkle in the eye and sense of flair while Hutchinson relishes the more ‘bitchy’ role with Barkle betraying his burlesque background with a touch of adroit physical comedy leaving Bracken to nicely ground it all with a warmer persona. They do work very well together, vocally and with good comic timing. Timothy How adds some sight gags as he reacts to proceedings before he himself briefly takes centre stage to amusing effect. 

I really enjoyed this – it’s funny, the concept is clever, the singing is first rate (though occasionally there was some speaker static on a stormy Perth night) and the joy on display beneath the bluster is infectious. There is only one show left – Tuesday night at 7.15pm in Teatro 1 in the Perth Cultural Centre – and I would recommend this as a great festival show.

And if you think Game of Thrones is full on, wait until you check out the murder, mayhem and flat out infatuation going on in all these librettos – those dwarves, Gods and love-struck humans sure know how to have a tragically good time! 

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