Killer collaboration

Snow White (La Boite, Opera Queensland & Brisbane Festival)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

September 3 – 24


Below a chaotic forest of mirrors and musical instruments aloft La Boite’s Rounhouse Theatre stage is an intimate place of beautiful song and mesmerising music. Mirrors are cleverly used to help bounce rays around the space as audiences are dropped in to the dark fairy-tale world of a potently-reimagined “Snow White”.


Using Suzie Miller’s poetic text and Zulya Kamalova’s eclectic musical score, the part opera, part musical, part play not only retells the familiar story but, under Lindy Hume’s direction, upends fairy-tale expectations from the outset. As the corseted and quite fantastic The Mirror, Kanen Breen tangos in temptation by the Queen one minute and sexualises Snow White the next.


Clearly The Mirror (and its associations with vanity in society) has a significant role in the text’s darkness and destruction. More musical than operatic in his stage presence, as emcee of sorts interacting with the audience in beguiling voice and brightening the stage with his every appearance, Breen is the villain the audience hates to love; his voice in song is exquisite and his characterisation is fabulous.


The story of “Snow White” is certainly suited to operatic treatment given its intensity and larger-than-life scale, despite centring on the complexity of the mother-daughter relationship. And Italian-born mezzo soprano Silvia Colloca is a wonderful Queen, initially powerful and vain, but later of broken-down fragility. Stephanie Pickett is similarly strong as Snow White.

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Together their voices harmonise beautifully in the poison apple scene climax. And Colloca’s vocals of guttural-like mourning soon-after are almost palpable with emotion. Baritone Michael Tuahine is similarly a multi-faceted and morally-conflicted Huntsman who literally chases Snow White as prey around the theatre’s stalls.


The four character narrative (sans dwarves) is musically driven, expressed succinctly through singing, which is all excellent. The music is like-wise impressive, evocative and eclectically bright, but also brutal as it memorably journeys the audience from the foreboding of the Huntsman’s chase of Snow White to an almost jaunty number as he sets in for her slaughter to Ben Hughes’ sinister steely-blue lighting.


This is, indeed, a lush and lavish production down to its every little detail of Sarah Winter’s set design, like the apples that line the stage edge. And its sophisticated lighting adds significantly to its experience in the aftermath of the poison apple scene, for example, where it supports the haunting cello sounds that hang in the air.

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Seeing the two Brisbane Festival Snow Whites within the same week may have brought anticipatory expectations of comparison, but La Boite Theatre’s contemporary reimagining of Grimm’s fairy tale really is beyond compare. This is an at-once enticing and confronting theatrical experience. It’s sex, violence and swearing ensure that it is very adults only, despite the array of stuffed animals that appear at intermission to populate the forest.

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While its second act slows comparative to the measured pace of Act One, and therefore seems to fall flatter, as years later Snow White’s beauty blossoms her into womanhood as her mother withers, there is still much to rave about with regards to the production. Its years of collaborative planning have paid off significantly with a killer show of great things as its juxtapositions of genre merge in vision to become a truly memorable night of theatre.

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Photos c/o – Dylan Evans

Figaro’s fiesta

The Barber of Seville (Opera Queensland)

QPAC, The Playhouse

July 9 – 23

It was once suggested that if even stuck for review ideas I could always default to descriptor of a show’s ‘colour and movement.’ Far from cliché, however, there is no better pairing to summarise the appeal of Opera Queensland’s vibrant musical fiesta “The Barber of Seville”. Tracy Grant Lord’s striking sets provide no shortage of colour, creating an opulent aesthetic enhanced by Matthew Marshall’s nuanced lighting and inventive use of nooks and clever crannies to add interest to the predominantly light-hearted fiesta of a story.


Dashing Count Almaviva (Virgilio Marino) has fallen for the young maiden Rosina (Katie Stenzel). But Rosina’s guardian Dr Bartolo (Andew Collis) is intent on marrying her himself. This is until the Barber of Seville, Figaro (Brett Carter) determines to unite the young lovers through a series of hilarious schemes that see the Count disguising himself as a solider and a music coach to gain access to Rosina. The result is, as Rosina’s governess Berta (Emily Burke) proclaims, a household in chaos, which suits the opera’s particularly fast pacing. Indeed, it is like a French farce, in Italian, but set in Spain, of entrances, exits and physical comedy, particularly from Brian Lucas as a not-so-token, Riff-Raffesque hunchback servant. It is an opera that thrives on absurdity and disorder in the most delicious of ways.

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Each character showcases excellent vocals in accompaniment of their characterisation, especially given the notorious complexity and fast-pace of Rossini’s arias. Really, however, this is Figaro’s show and from the moment he cheekily ascends to the stage from a bumbling entrance through the stalls, in purple and hot pink suit, Germany-based Australian baritone Carter is perfection, capturing his character’s charisma and charm and delivering accomplished vocals to endear the vivacity of Rossini’s score.


As always, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, headed by conductor Roland Peelman provides superb accompaniment, evident from the opera’s fabulous, familiar opening overture, taking everyone back to memory of Looney Tunes’ theatrical cartoon short featuring the music and elements of the opera with Bugs Bunny as the Rabbit of Seville. In particular, the strings section provides precise orchestral support for the onstage voices and when sounds are softened by Andrew Veivers on flamenco guitar, the overall aesthetic benefits immeasurably.

In this 200th anniversary year of the first performance of “The Barber of Seville” Opera Queensland have used the witty work to continue the high standard set in their recent productions. While some purists might cringe at its constant comic inclusions, under the direction of Lindy Hume this impressive production dually proves to be a lavish and accessible treat, especially for audience members new to the artform. The show is riotously funny and full of musical sparkle, making it easy to see how it has become one of the most popular works in the repertoire of many opera companies. And the fact that it is Brisbane season is being followed by a regional tour is added delight.