‘Mania’ is not a word that’s easy to pin down to a simple definition.
Depending on the circumstances it could mean ‘madness’ or ‘overenthusiasm’ or even a violent excess of excitement. If the title OperaMania makes you think of ‘WrestleMania’, rest assured, there’s no violence onstage in the Moscow Novaya Opera’s first Australian tour. There is, however, plenty of madness.
Pulled together by Artistic Director Valery Raku and Stage Director Alexey Veiro, OperaMania is a smorgasbord of the most iconic musical moments from opera, ballet and even the general classical repertoire. Staged in what they’ve referred to as a ‘seamless’ presentation, the orchestra, soloists and dancers move from opera to opera at lightning pace, performing the shortest excerpts imaginable while projections of often irrelevant Russian paintings flick past in the background.
Performed in full costume, there’s a bizarrely un-sexy performance of the seductive Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen a performance of Nessun Dorma from Turandot that seems to revolve around an umbrella and a confusing performance of the iconic coloratura showpiece Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute that draws laughs Mozart would’ve never anticipated.
The real disappointment is that there’s genuine musical and dance talent on display onstage, but it’s difficult to enjoy given all the distractions. Every element would’ve been much better served in a simple concert presentation than it has been here.
The stage is filled with big voices that effectively shake the rafters of Sydney’s City Recital Hall with some glorious vocal moments. A real highlight is Elizaveta Soina’s performance of ‘Casta Diva’ from Bellini’s Norma and the ensemble work is wonderful.
All the dancing is as passionate and precise as you’d expect from the Imperial Russian Ballet, even if it is performed on a stage too small to showcase everything these fine dancers can do.
The orchestra shines under conductor Andrei Lebedev’s lively direction. They play with incredible gusto and skill, switching from opera to opera effortlessly. Ekaterina Kolpakova is fantastic on piano, although when she takes over ‘harp’ duties on an electric keyboard it’s difficult to believe you’re watching one of Russia’s greatest opera companies.
If you’re a fan of opera and other classical music, you’ll find a lot of things to enjoy here. Unfortunately you’ll probably find more to complain about. I certainly did.