Terracini is the architect of the hugely successful Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour series, which in the 10 years since its spectacular inaugural production of La Traviata has established itself internationally as one of the world’s great outdoor opera experiences.
Even more remarkable was Terracini’s achievement in securing Simon Phillips, Gabriela Tylesova and Nick Schlieper, the team responsible for the lavish production of another Lloyd Webber musical, Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera to collaborate again on this project.
The Phantom of the Opera a lush, melodramatic musical set in the Paris Opera House, with its story woven around a series of mysterious events occurring during rehearsals of one of its productions, and a wonderful soaring score by Lloyd Webber, is a perfect vehicle for the HOSH treatment.
However, with the bulk of its action taking place either on the stage of opera house or below in a river cave and its famous set pieces requiring a falling chandelier and the boat-ride under the opera house through thousands of flickering candles, its presentation outdoors presented formidable challenges.
How the creative team Phillips, Tylesova, Schlieper and choreographer Simone Sault, have overcome these challenges, has resulted in a production destined to be the crowning achievement among the many remarkable productions already offered in the HOSH series.
The chandelier remains, and the flickering candles are replaced by an even more astonishing effect. Tylesova’s setting of a decaying lavishly gilded half-proscenium and huge sweeping staircase, augmented by beautiful set-pieces which glide silently into place, all superbly lit by Nick Schlieper, provides the perfect environment for the hundreds of lavish costumes and wigs she’s created for Phillips’ spectacular staging, for which Simone Sault has created a series of eye-catching dance sequences involving a large team of dancers. The spectacle reaches its zenith in the stunning masked-ball Masquerade sequence, involving the whole company.
However the brilliance of Phillips direction is not in his handling of the spectacle alone, but in his audacious casting and the way he has managed to keep the focus of the production on telling the story, as improbable as it may be, so that the climactic scenes involving just the Phantom, Christine and Raul become quite riveting.
Instead of opting for ‘star’ casting, which might have been expected for such a production, Phillips cast Joshua Robson, Georgina Hopson and Callum Francis, all experienced performers but relatively unknown to the general public, in the roles of the Phantom, Christine Daae, and Raoul respectively. His gamble has come up trumps, for their performances in this production are proof positive that each has earned their ‘star’ billing.
Joshua Robson gives a compelling performance as the Phantom. Not only is his vocal range phenomenal, especially in the all-important title song where he makes interesting vocal choices, he is also a strong actor with an arresting presence, who despite having half his face covered for most of the proceedings, and committing several atrocities along the way, still manages to engage the sympathy of the audience in the final scenes.
No one who saw Georgina Hopson’s performance in Ragtime, another musical ripe for the HOSH treatment, would have been surprised at her casting as Christine Daae in this production. Her clear, sweet soprano voice, impeccable diction, and beguiling stage presence makes her perfect casting in this role. Hopson’s portrayal imbues her Christine with more gumption than usual, bringing additional tension to the final scenes as she begins to realise the danger in which her fascination with the Phantom has placed her.
Similarly Callum Francis, as the strangely coiffed Raoul, fresh from playing the gentle boxer, Joe Scott in The Girl From the North Country and unrecognisable from his starring role as the drag queen, Lola, in Kinky Boots, gives a passionate, superbly sung performance as Christine’s rescuer, quite different from other interpretations of this role.
Other standouts were Naomi Johns as the outrageous diva, Carlotta Giudicelli, not only for her remarkable costumes, but for her soaring coloratura and deliciously over-the-top performance; Paul Tabone, every inch the cliché operatic tenor, Ubaldo Piangi and Kelsi Boyden, quite delightful as Christine Daae’s champion, Meg Giry.
Added pleasures include the opportunity to see Maree Johnson, a former Christine Daae from the original Australian production of The Phantom and direct from playing Madame Giry in the current Broadway production, exuding dignity and authority with her re-imagining of that role for this production. Michael Cormick, who having played Raoul in the West End production, and the Phantom in another, revelling in his opportunity to play Opera Manager, Monsieur Firman opposite the ever-suave Martin Crewes as Monsieur Andre.
A miraculous sound design by Shelly Lee ensured that every lyric and every note of Lloyd Webber’s remarkable score, gloriously interpreted by Guy Simpson, conducting his excellent orchestra from under the stage, could be savoured. Nature even co-operated by providing a picture-perfect Sydney Autumn night.
A night at a Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour is a unique Sydney event. This production of The Phantom of the Opera, on opening night performed in the presence of the composer, Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, is its best production yet. Don’t miss it.
The Phantom of the Opera – Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour
Fleet Steps – Mrs Macquaries Point, Sydney
Performance: Friday 25 March 2022
Season continues to 24 April 2022
Information and Bookings: www.opera.org.au
Image: Joshua Robson as The Phantom and Georgina Hopson as Christine Daaé in Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour’s 2022 production of The Phantom of the Opera – photo by Prudence Upton
Review: Bill Stephens OAM