September 23, 2017

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Tweaked Phantom provides satisfying sense of melodrama

MATTHEW MURPHY PHOTO</p><p>Derrick Davis is an especially strong Phantom and Eva Tavares holds her ground dramatically, both by virtue of her voice and an intense presence.</p>

MATTHEW MURPHY PHOTO

Derrick Davis is an especially strong Phantom and Eva Tavares holds her ground dramatically, both by virtue of her voice and an intense presence.

Be assured, fans: This new-to-Winnipeg touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's lavish musical The Phantom of the Opera has all the elements of the original production. There's the fabulous, 17-piece orchestra-powered music, still fluctuating between the classical operatic and electric guitar-infused rock; the substantial costumes by the late Maria Björnson; and, of course, that dazzling, perilous chandelier.

However, this production has also been tweaked with a revamped set design by Paul Brown that retains the gothic richness of past productions, but does so with more compact moving parts that emphasize the constrictions of its enclosed spaces: the opera house backstage, the Phantom's lair, even the manager's office. So many characters here are trapped by their circumstances, and this redesign suggests enclosure more than big, empty grandeur (although the production still accomodates widescreen-style spectacle, as in the second act opener Masquerade).

The drama itself is much the same, with some subtle shifts of focus. Here's the ingenue Christine Daaé (Eva Tavares) working at the corps de ballet of Paris's Opéra Populaire, but being surreptitiously schooled in singing by the unseen "Angel of Music," a tutor promised to her by her dying father.

That angel is more of a demon to the new owners of the venue, demanding a monthly salary and threatening its star soprano, the vain diva Carlotta (Trista Moldovan, formidable of voice and comic timing). When Carlotta exits in a huff, Chistine is recruited to take her lead role, which suits the plans of the mysterious, self-styled "Opera Ghost" (Derrick Davis), the phantom who lives beneath the opera in a subterranean lair.

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Be assured, fans: This new-to-Winnipeg touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's lavish musical The Phantom of the Opera has all the elements of the original production. There's the fabulous, 17-piece orchestra-powered music, still fluctuating between the classical operatic and electric guitar-infused rock; the substantial costumes by the late Maria Björnson; and, of course, that dazzling, perilous chandelier.

However, this production has also been tweaked with a revamped set design by Paul Brown that retains the gothic richness of past productions, but does so with more compact moving parts that emphasize the constrictions of its enclosed spaces: the opera house backstage, the Phantom's lair, even the manager's office. So many characters here are trapped by their circumstances, and this redesign suggests enclosure more than big, empty grandeur (although the production still accomodates widescreen-style spectacle, as in the second act opener Masquerade).

The drama itself is much the same, with some subtle shifts of focus. Here's the ingenue Christine Daaé (Eva Tavares) working at the corps de ballet of Paris's Opéra Populaire, but being surreptitiously schooled in singing by the unseen "Angel of Music," a tutor promised to her by her dying father.

That angel is more of a demon to the new owners of the venue, demanding a monthly salary and threatening its star soprano, the vain diva Carlotta (Trista Moldovan, formidable of voice and comic timing). When Carlotta exits in a huff, Chistine is recruited to take her lead role, which suits the plans of the mysterious, self-styled "Opera Ghost" (Derrick Davis), the phantom who lives beneath the opera in a subterranean lair.

Christine's career ascendency also captures the notice of the opera house's patron, Raoul (a stalwart Jordan Craig), the Vicomte de Chagny. A childhood friend of Christine's, Raoul proceeds to launch a full courtship press on Christine, much to the Phantom's possessive displeasure.

Prior to this musical, adaptations of the 1910 book by Gaston Leroux have tended to fall squarely in the horror movie genre. Webber, who wrote the music and cowrote the book with Richard Stilgoe, refashioned it as a Gothic romance with decidedly dark, sadomasochistic undertones.

When you think about it, the Phantom's signature seduction song Music of the Night could serve as the love theme from Fifty Shades of Grey. Perhaps the crazy success of that whipped-up potboiler may explain why kink gets more of an accent here than the Electra complex issues raised in past productions.

It's acted, as it should be, with a sense of heightened melodrama. In the title role, Derrick Davis is an especially strong Phantom, not just because of that clear, beautiful singing voice but because one senses a full, emotional commitment with never a hint of irony.

Relatively new to the role (in terms of a touring production), Canadian coloratura Eva Tavares looks tiny of stature next to Davis, but she holds her ground dramatically, both by virtue of her voice and an intense presence. The role demands that she be an object of desire for her two suitors, but by the second act, she credibly emerges as a self-possessed woman intent on taking charge of her own desires.

 

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Read more by Randall King.

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