Dates and Venue April 25 & 27, May 3 at 8pm; May 5 at 2:30pm | The Royal Theatre, Victoria
Conductor Timothy VernonDirector Linda Brovsky Set and Costume Designer Patrick Clark Choreography Jacques Lemay Lighting Designer Wendy Lundgren Chorus Master Giuseppe Pietraroia Stage Manager Kelly Luft
Leslie Ann Bradley Count Tassilo Adam Luther Baron Zsupan
Michael Barrett Lisa Suzanne Rigden Princess Bozena
Nicola Cavendish Prince Popolescu Bruce Kelly
Sung in English with English surtitles
Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson
Just an hour’s drive from Vienna (at 1920’s speeds), deep in the heart of rural Hungary, lies a country estate, a prosperous farm producing milk and cheese, beef and grain. Living on the estate are a faithful servant (Jim Leard as Tschekko), charming children and a musical gypsy band complete with musicians (Julian Viet, gypsy violin and David Shively, cimbalom) and a fortune teller (Manja, richly sung by Jennifer Taverner). Here you will find a young farm manager, Bela Torek (Adam Luther) who is capable, charming and beloved by everyone.
All this is evoked by the great rolling opening chords of the overture to Countess Maritza, lush and rich and spiked with Hungarian harmonies, utterly convincing and deeply thought out. It is clear from the start that this dream of a place is worth imagining. Conductor Timothy Vernon and stage director Linda Brovsky conjure up a world of genuine sentiment.
Into this bucolic idyll comes the Countess Maritza.. She is the fabulously wealthy absentee land owner. She is also the drop-dead gorgeous and gorgeously voiced LeslieAnn Bradley. Tired of fending off fortune hunting suitors Maritza has invented a fiancé, named him Baron Zsupan after a character in an operetta by Strauss, and announced an engagement party to be held on the estate. Unfortunately there is a real Baron Zsupan (Michael Barrett) who thinks it only right to turn up to his own engagement. In a lovely, lilting duet he invites Maritza to Varasdin which she determinedly turns down. Charm and a delicious sense of humour make Michael Barrett a singularly delightful Zsupan, and exactly the right partner for the equally charming Lisa (Suzanne Rigden). Their light, clear voices blended beautifully and they both dance quite well. Michael Barrett is to be commended on his lifts.
Lisa is one of Maritza’s party friends and also Torek’s sister. He, unsurprisingly, is not what he seems, but rather an impoverished aristocrat, Count Tassilo Endrody-Wittenburg no less, trying to earn some money for Lisa’s dowry. Luther’s Tassilo is an attractive, rather earnest and somewhat touchy young man. He has an irresistible voice, vibrant, strong and clear and perfect for Kalman’s luxuriant lines.
Typical twists and turns of the plot keep the action moving along with plenty of time for misunderstandings, hidden secrets, gypsy music and dancing. This is a good natured operetta though so only the music and dancing are serious. Everything unravels nicely: the impoverished Lisa can marry Zsupan (who can only marry a girl with no fortune). Maritza falls in love, as predicted by Manja, Tassilo’s fortune is restored so he can give up being a farm manager and marry Maritza.
Even Princess Bozena (Nicola Cavendish), Tassilo’s dea ex machina of an ancient aunt finds love with Prince Popolescu, (Bruce Kelly) formerly a suitor of Maritza’s. These two bring enormous zest to the stage. Brian Linds matches their very sharp characterizations and gives a very funny comic turn as Penizek, the Princess’s valet
The costuming (by Patrick Clark who also designed the set) was excellent. Particularly striking were the ladies' innocent white tennis dresses which contrasted with their sophisticated black evening wear. Colourful military uniforms and bright gypsy embroidery added to the lively atmosphere. Jacques Lemay's choreography presented quite a lot of foot work and folk dancing for the cast, as well as a bit of foxtrot, the cancan and, of course, the Waltz. All was enhanced by Wendy Lundgren's lighting.
All the best of light, middle-European music of some hundred years ago was here, to be indulged in and enjoyed.
© 2019 Elizabeth Paterson