William Tell ★★★★
Victorian Opera, Palais Theatre, July 14, 17, 19
The auditorium holds its breath. It's the moment we've all been waiting for, when Guillaume Tell is forced to shoot an apple off his son's head with a bow and arrow. But when technology fails, as it did on opening night, what should be a dramatic climax quite literally doesn't hit the mark.
Victorian Opera artistic director Richard Mills bills this production as the "operatic event of 2018". The scale certainly matches this description; 70-odd players in the pit, a 50-strong chorus and a cast of local and international soloists.
The tale of a Swiss freedom fighter who leads a rebellion against the Austrians was Rossini's final opera. It premiered in Paris in 1829 and hasn't been seen in Australia since 1876. Victorian Opera's production is set in a dystopian future, inspired by myriad modern influences. It's part-Hunger Games, part-Handmaid's Tale, with a dash of Star Wars and what looked like Ghostbusters for a minute there. This attempt to bring the story to a relatable setting for a contemporary audience is commendable, but felt a bit contrived.
Argentinian baritone Armando Noguera is an outstanding Tell. He's commanding in voice and physique, and elegantly handles Rossini's style. He even growls when the occasion calls for it, forsaking beauty of voice for pure guts. As Mathilde, Danish soprano Gisela Stille filled the enormous auditorium of the Palais with an effortless, rich sound. Tenor Carlos Barcenas has the hardest job of the night. The role of Arnold is high, loud and taxing, but Barcenas thrilled for the most part.
Of the supporting cast, Alexandra Flood delights as Tell's son Jemmy. Her soprano is sweet yet strong, with top notes that soar above the huge orchestra. VO veteran Liane Keegan looks and sounds better than ever. Her trio with Flood and Stille was a beautiful blend of female vocal colours. Though we only get him for the first act, it's great to see the tremendous Teddy Tahu Rhodes back on the Melbourne opera stage.
Much is said about the beginning of William Tell, but the ending is just as memorable. A beautiful harp solo by Delyth Stafford leads the entire company into a spectacular finale. The orchestra is the real star of this opera. Led by the inimitable Mills, Orchestra Victoria play with precision and passion.
It's not quite a bull's eye, but this combination of musicians and performers has been worth the 142-year wait.