The words ‘Opera Australia’ and ‘piano ditty’ are not normally things you would typically associate with one another. But in the latest Sydney Opera House production Two Weddings, One Bride, the pair look set to become a marriage made in heaven. This operetta is a fun and accessible romp through comedy and farce in the exotic splendour of French Morocco.
The story is based on Charles Lecocq’s 1874 operetta, Giroflé-Girofla and is re-written for a modern, Australian audience by renowned conductor and musical director, Robert Andrew Green. The latter rewrote a lot of the music in Lecocq’s original piece and has instead fashioned this score into something not unlike a giant opera jukebox. It’s one where Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus” and “The Gypsy Baron” can appear alongside Jacques Offenbach’s “The Infernal Gallop” (or the music we typically associate with the can-can) but with completely new lyrics in English.
Operettas have traditionally been considered more like a lighter version of opera and the most famous one is Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore. In recent times operetta has fallen out of favour with audiences because more people tend to head along to professional productions of musical theatre or the more traditional opera tragedies. But Two Weddings, One Bride proves to be a great bridge between theatre and opera and an excellent primer for people who have never set foot in an opera performance because they’ll be treated to the soaring vocal talents of the ensemble and they’ll also get to hum and tap their toes along to the infectious and sparkly melodies offered here.
Young soprano, Julie Lea Goodwin has the gargantuan task of playing Giroflé and Girofla, the identical twin sisters who are promised in marriage by their hapless father Governor Philippe (baritone John Bolton Wood) who is in charge of the French colony in Morocco. The two unsuspecting bride grooms include the son of the Governor’s bankers, Marasquin (tenor Nicholas Jones) and the Italian General and enemy who pays the appropriate price, Generale Modigliani (baritone Andrew Jones).
Governor Philippe has planned the wedding for his two daughters on the one day in order to save money because he’s already racked up a large among of debt. But this plan is threatened when is daughter Girofla is abducted by pirates. But rather than call off the wedding the parents (including mother, Geraldine Turner) push their daughter Giroflé to impersonate her sister and comic results ensue.
This show is not your typical opera because it is very light and bright. There are lots of witty and clever one-liners peppering the script (like the mother’s idea of marital law being more like martial law and being up to the proverbial creek without a paddle, to name a few). The music includes waltzes, polkas and songs that have more in common with poppy piano pieces than your standard, orchestral fare. Greene performs the piano here and is accompanied by a sole violinist (Yuhki Mayne). The song Champagne is a particular highlight and you’ll be singing “Drink it down, drink it down” long after you’ve left the Playhouse.
The set by Owen Phillips is eye-catching and colourful and what you would expect from a mansion in the exotic Moroccan surrounds. The costumes by Tim Chappel (Priscilla Queen of the Desert) are absolutely stunning. Look out for the white meringue wedding dress because it’s a gem, as are the ways they distinguish between the two “twins” in pink and blue.
Two Weddings, One Bride is a sweet farce and a slice of mad-cap fun. It’s truly one amazing affair and night out at the opera, darling. You will be treated to an elaborate rouse as well as some energetic pop opera tunes that are all in the key of love, marriage and frivolity. This is opera at its most accessible and proof positive that the humble operetta can be both a grand old time and a great big party.
Two Weddings, One Bride plays at the Sydney Opera House until October 22. More info here.
Photo credit: Sydney Opera House