Karyn Taylor Moore
Toi Toi Opera’s Barber & Bernstein Double Bill shows the company to be innovative, imaginative and adventurous, writes critic Tony Ryan.
Toi Toi Opera – A Barber & Bernstein Double Bill
Knoxville Summer 1915; A bridge hand; Problem in Tahiti
Director: Matthew Kereama Musical direction: Rachel Fuller
Reviewed by Tony Ryan
REVIEW: In this double bill, Toi Toi Opera’s high production values and well-chosen cast ensure that the concept emerges as an integrated combination of three American plays that share domestic intimacy and commentary on the elusiveness of the American dream.
The elegant direction of Toi Toi and the convincing interpretation of Emma Gilkison of Barber’s Knoxville make it an effective prologue to the composer’s ten-minute opera A Hand of Bridge in which two couples reveal their repressed dreams as they live their unrealized life.
* The year the New Zealand opera scene hit the headlines
* Death of Broadway director and producer Hal Prince
* Choreograph the star in the classic West Side Story at the Wellington Opera House
The five singers in this first part portray their characters with vocal distinction, and while Katherine Doig stands out for her more direct projection of voice and character, the others are equally effective in conveying their characters’ pent-up yearnings.
In Knoxville, Emma Gilkison’s tendency to retreat from higher, arching phrases would be aided by a more fluid tempo, which could also better highlight dramatic contrasts.
In Bernstein’s one-act opera Trouble in Tahiti, the choral trio’s commentary is beautifully sung – the blending of the three voices and their physical coordination is impressive and highly entertaining.
The final scene where they portray the American Dream looking through the living room windows is particularly effective.
The two main singers of this work assume their role with conviction. John Bayne, as the suitably self-opposing Sam, has the vocal and physical attributes required for the role, and although, as a businessman, he tends to be a little woodsy compared to his older characterization. unleashed in the gym locker room, he’s still compelling as a husband in a dysfunctional marriage.
As his wife Dinah, Matilda Wickbom singing her tune “I was Standing in a Garden” is the highlight of the evening – touching and beautifully done. And his contrasting solo “What a Movie” demonstrates an ability to communicate the various facets of the piece.
A quintet of instrumentalists, led by musical director Rachel Fuller, fully supports the stage performances, and the set, lighting, and costumes are excellent. Matthew Kereama’s direction ensures that the composers’ intentions can unfold without intervention, so the overall concept works beautifully.
Toi Toi is a company to watch – not only talented and professional, but innovative, imaginative and adventurous in a way that will surely develop a growing following as its reputation spreads.