You know you're in Australia when you started toying with referring to an opera as The Shane & Yvonne Show but that's sort of what Opera Australia's Baroque Masterpieces turned out to be. Except that's not entirely fair. The Shane & Yvonne & Kanen Show, although less euphonious, would be closer to the truth. I've dwelled long enough on the merits of Shane Lowrencev's Polyphemus and too long perhaps on those of Yvonne Kenny's superb Dido, but a word or five on Kanen Breen's double star turn would not, I think, go amiss.
Kanen has the honour of being on of the first Opera Australia regulars (Yvonne aside, obviously) to become a favourite of mine: he was the hero of the 2005 season of Rossini's Il signor Bruschino, which I saw five times because it was paired with Poulenc's La voix humaine, that year's Yvonne Vehicle. Five performes in close succession of any Rossini opera would be on the excessive side, and Bruschino is not exactly a masterpiece, but the hilarity of Kanen's performance was what got me through. Between then and now, though, I've had a checquered relationship with him. In some roles he's delighted me, in others exasperated me. Of course, as the company's #1 Comprimario, he sings so much that that's perhaps inevitable.
In any case, his two latest roles, Handel's Damon and Purcell's Sorceress, have well and truly fallen into the delightful camp. He has charisma by the bucketload and while there are shortcomings to his voice, he sings with style and musicality and pays attention to the text: all virtues I greatly admire, even if I'm not going weak at the knees for the sound of his voice. His first aria in Acis and Galatea is the most controversial bit of an otherwise really rather tame staging (it was booed last night) but he pulls it off brilliantly, playing up all Damon's scandalous behaviour and singing a lengthy bit of baroque coloratura with precision and vitality, no mean feat. And he doesn't, at that point or any other, just rely on the strangeness of the staging to create his character: he actually works at it, he acts and is as present while silent as he is while singing. His Sorceress in Dido and Aeneas is on still another level though, a thoroughly creepy and original creation. His dance background is evident in her demonic contortions, and he has the most fabulous talent for striking a pose: I'm thinking especially of when the Sorceress breaks in after the Sailors' Dance, dead roses in her arms. Given that, in this revival especially, Patrick Nolan seems to have conceived the Sorceress as as evil inversion of Dido, it's vital that she be as commanding in her own way is Yvonne's Dido is in hers — and that's what Kanen manages to do.
One further point worth mentioning before I wave this show on its merry way. Last night's was possibly not Taryn Fiebig best performance vocally (that came, for me at least, in the previous performance) but it was her most dramatically convincing. From around about the time of the first boo (although that's probably just coincidence) her performance became steadily darker and more involved and by the time of Acis's death she was really quite compelling, even tapping into her inner Lucia (that is not a hint) for the final scenes. I still can't figure Taryn out, sometimes she seems just millimetres from being someone I could go nuts for and then she loses me again, but in the last two performances especially, I've seen and heard enough to make me want to keep trying. I think my next best shot at that is Pinchgut's L'Ormindo; she's singing in The Mikado before that, but Gilbert & Sullivan is not exactly fertile ground for my affections to bloom in.
That's about it now, I think. I was going to write something about how much I loved Nolan's staging of Dido's death, but it's the sort of thing which is lost in translation — it needed to be seen.