Back then, the opera buffa (comic opera) was celebrating its 200th year. When the show premiered at La Scala, Milan, in August 1814, Italian composer Gioachino Rossini was just 22 – and already a star.
Graeme Macfarlane as Albazar, Anna Dowsley as Zaida and the Opera Australia Chorus. Credit: Keith Saunders.
In the hands of Phillips, alongside designer Gabriela Tylesova, Rossini's Italian seaside travels to a bold, colourful, stylised imagining of the 1950s. At the set's centre is a double-revolve shaped liked a gigantic, tilted ice-cream cone, which acts as bar, nightclub, house and beach. Around it, the Opera Australia Chorus battles with deck chairs, struts its stuff in vintage bikinis and, in one scene, transforms into a host of Elvis and Marilyn impersonators.
The Opera Australia Chorus. Credit: Keith Saunders.
Enter barman – and aspiring playwright – Prosdocimo (Samuel Dundas), who's desperately searching for a plot. He finds it right under his nose: his rotund, ageing boss, Geronio (Warwick Fyfe), cannot stop obsessing over – nor giving into – his young, beautiful wife, Fiorilla (Stacey Alleaume), whose main interest is attracting the attention of other men. However, when Turkish Captain Selim (Paolo Bordogna) washes ashore, Fiorilla meets her match, their flirtation quickly growing into uncontrollable infatuation. Complicating matters is the arrival of the gypsy Zaida (Anna Dowsley), Selim's former lover.
Phillips goes to town, drawing every possible laugh out of this straightforward yet entertaining plot, by emphasising double entendres, adding slapstick and not shying away from plain old naughty jokes. The brave translation of Felice Romani's libretto features Aussie slang and occasional expletives.
Warwick Fyfe as Geronio, Stacey Alleaume as Fiorilla, Paolo Bordogna as Selim and Virgilio Marino as Narciso. Credit: Keith Saunders.
Alleaume conquers her coloratura with absolute mastery, without – for even a second – abandoning Fiorilla's impossibly coquettish persona. Fyfe brings charisma and brilliant timing – both comedic and musical – to his take on Geronio, achieving a poignant mix of buffoonery and fragility. Meanwhile, Bordogna delights as the fluent-singing, smooth-talking Selim; Dowsley mesmerises with her appealing, agile interpretation of Zaida; and Dundas wins hearts as the cheeky and creatively ambitious Prosdocimo.