Matthias Davids, who in 2012 directed Gigi at the Oper Graz, has returned with the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic Carousel. There are many reasons why this could have been problematic: firstly, because the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein are unfortunately hardly ever performed in Austria, and secondly, because it is based on the play Liliom, which is well-known in Austria and staged very frequently. That is why it is great to see that the Opera Graz, under artistic director Elisabeth Sobotka, is daring to stage this wonderful show. There must have been debates about whether the piece was going to be performed in English or translated into German – thankfully, the solution that has been reached is a good one, with the dialogue translated into German by Frank Thannhäuser and the songs remaining in English.
One might expect that this decision would result in the show not flowing properly but that is not the case at all. At the very beginning it is a bit peculiar, but anything strange about the approach is forgotten after a while.
James Rutherford gives an authentic portrayal of Billy Bigelow. His singing is flawless, and although the acting is a little shaky at the beginning, it improves and allows the artist to reveal both sides of the character brilliantly. Also, Sieglinde Feldhofer, who plays the part of Julie Jordan, sings beautifully. I particularly enjoyed the way the two harmonised in ‘If I Loved You”, in addition to her moving rendition of ‘What’s the Use of Won’drin’?’.
The role of her friend Carrie Pipperidge is played by Dschamilja Kaiser. While she is the perfect Carrie dramatically – very sweet and innocent, and harmonises well with Martin Fournier, who gives a solid performance as Enoch Snow – it is clear that she has an operatic background. Her singing is beautiful, but far too operatic for this part.
The role of Nettie Fowler is played by the wonderful Dagmar Hellberg. And indeed, her acting and singing are wonderful, qualities very much on display in a moving ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. The ensemble number ‘June is Bustin’ Out All Over’ is also impressively sung by both Hellberg and the ensemble. Uschi Plautz, as Mrs Mullins, is joined by Christian Dolezal as Jigger Craigin and Götz Zeman as Starkeeper/Dr Sheldon.
I also have to praise the ensemble. Despite not singing in their native language, they all do a great job, and I could understand every word very clearly. The ensemble includes: Astrid Gollob, who also portrays the part of Louise Bigelow, Gernot Romic, Joel Kirby, Thomas Karl Poms, Dustin Smailes, Alexandra Farkic, Stefan Schmitz, Bostjan Ivanjsic, Suzan Novosel, Samantha Turton and Marion Zollinger.
Matthias Davids, artistic director of the Musical Theatre ensemble in Linz, knows how to direct a classic. Together with set designer Matthias Fischer-Dieskau and costume designer Judith Peter, he creates the perfect scenario. The sets are simple, and I particularly enjoyed the video projections that make up half of the carousel as well as the sky for different scenes. The costumes are simple, colourful and work well with this particular piece. Melissa King’s choreography mixes both classical and modern styles.
Ludovico Lucchesi Palli
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