Like many independent Melbourne companies, Lyric Opera consistently punch above their weight to produce work that deserves the financial support and the audiences that assume that great opera needs huge stages and velvet-covered seats. Their current production of Il Signor Bruschino, Rossini’s 1813 operatic farce, is an absolute delight and proves that great opera can be made with little more than terrific singers, great musicians, and creatives who treat the score and text like it’s new.
Set in an Italian fashion house, Gaudenzio (Matthew Thomas) has arranged for his daughter Sofia (Rebecca Rashleigh) to marry Bruschino (Cameron Sibly). But she’s in love with Florville (Shanul Sharma), the son of Gaudenzio’s rival, and Bruschino’s father (Bruce Raggat) has had his drunkard son locked in a cafe owned by the easily-bribed Filiberto (Raphael Wong). As Gaudenzio’s assistant, Mariana (Genevive Dickson) supports the lovers and local copper (Bernie Leon) unwittingly helps, Florville impersonates Bruschino and shenanigan’s ensue.
With the audience on three sides of the stage, the action begins in the overture and Lucy Wilkins’s strikingly gorgeous costumes set the tone and define every character before anyone sings. Using bold colours for each character, she draws on Italian couture from the 1940s through to the 1980s to create a look that’s timelessly contemporary and outrageously fun.
Director Lara Kerestes (mentored by Suzanne Chaundy) makes excellent use of the open and intimate space to ensure that story drives the action, while the performers and conductor (Pat Miller) ensure that the music drives the characters and the emotion. As the audience are so close to the performers, individual parts and lyrics – it’s sung in English – can be heard, and as they move around the stage, perspectives change. This lets the audiences see and hear individual parts and deconstruct how the complex sound of an opera is created.
At under 90 minutes, Il Signor Bruschino is a wonderful introduction to opera. Being beautifully sung and joyfully performed, it’s also a welcome reminder that opera doesn’t need to feel dated or stuck in the past.