The Coffee Cantata
NZ Opera production
Saturday 30 March 2019, Hannah Apartments, Wellington
Music: Johann Sebastian Bach
Libretto: Georgia Jamieson Emms
Director: Jacqueline Coats
Conductor: Michael Vinten
A personal opinion from Stephen Gibbs
Will Schlump: Robert Tucker
Lisa: Alexandra Gandionco
Narrator : Declan Cudd
Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus
Keyboard : Michael Vinten
Flute: Set Designer : Rebecca Steel
Cello: Samuel Berkahn
tldr: the short story
A madcap, caffeine-fuelled, romp of a mini-opera – a triumph for the whole cast, crew and company. The acting were convincing, comedic and perfectly cast and the voices were superb, resonant and rich. The accompanying musicians were faultless – handsome harpsichording, flurries of fluting, and commanding continuo! A joy to see and hear.
The long story:
New Zealand Opera has been part of the CubaDupa experience for a good many years. Last year it was the Steampunk version of Anthony Ritchie’s The Eagle has Landed; 2017 Renaud the Fox by Stravinsky; etc…
This time it was the music of J S Bach (mostly) but with a specially commissioned English script by Georgia Jamieson Emms and directed by Jacqueline Coats. It was hilarious, zany and an absolute triumph.
In the tradition of musical theatre, the jokes were pointed and contemporary dealing with NZ news, social media, smartphones, NZ and Wellington society – particularly at Wellington’s role as the ‘Coffee-Supping Capital of the World’ (which it is!) The opening from the Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus was a mishmash of Bizet, Verdi, Handel and Orff chorus arias and oratorios and it set the scene for a madcap, caffeine-fuelled, romp of a mini-opera.
Jacqueline Coats has much experience of the street-theatre and the space at the Hannah Apartments parking lot and she used it with excellent effect. Despite the crowd of people standing and sitting, the chorus was able to move around at will, waltzing between the audience members with their trays of coffee held high. The father, Will Schlump and his daughter Lisa were introduced at a window high above the audience and, when they came down, a barrel made a stage for the diminutive Lisa.
The acting – the three main characters Robert Tucker, Alexandra Gandionco, Declan Cudd and the chorus – were convincing, comedic and perfectly cast. The voices were superb, resonant and rich. Outside the acoustics can be tricky, but they were clear as an amplified bell.
The accompanying musicians, when they got into the act with music by J S Bach, were outstanding – handsome harpsichording, flurries of fluting, and commanding continuo! Faultless. [But I suspect that the rehearsals were indoors, at night, or a cloudy day. The glare of sunshine, and their costumes had to be a trial for them!]
It was a joy to see and hear and the audience enjoyed the spectacle completely and applauded long and loud – and I think the script should be available, and maybe performed again in other places (but don’t take the ‘Wellington’ out of it!)