Penny Shaw and Fiona Cooper Smyth are incredibly versatile opera singers with a fabulous flair for comedy and glamour.
A great start to my reviewing for 2015 – one of my favourite duos, Divalicious, is back at the Perth Fringe – and with a new act, this time incorporating two other fine artists, baritone Robert Hofmann and pianist Tommaso Pollio. Members of the ensemble have worked together before in various combinations, and this one works very well indeed.
Penny Shaw and Fiona Cooper Smyth are incredibly versatile opera singers with a fabulous flair for comedy and glamour. You can catch them in the WA Opera, or you might fall over them at your next corporate event. Both sopranos, they nevertheless have very different voices. However, they blend beautifully and this is shown to perfection in their duets. Whether they’re being funny or serious, they are consummate artists who deserve a wide following. They have never earned fewer than five stars from this reviewer, and I doubt they ever will.
They set the tone of the show at once: two glamour girls in purple gowns and loads of lovely bling are intent on upstaging each other. They perform a few snippets of arias in Italian and German, while bumping and grinding their way about the stage and into the audience, Penny Shaw had her mark picked: a gentleman whose lap she commandeered more than once during the evening as well as making him the butt of a couple of asides. I hope he was a friend. More importantly, I hope he is still a friend!
The ladies introduced another friend, the leggy, lanky two-metre tall baritone Robert Hofmann, who, with a bit of ‘assistance’ from his hostesses, gave us a relatively straight rendition of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, demonstrating a nice timbre and excellent, clear diction. Penny Shaw then took to the podium with two dolls – Barbie and Ken. She sang ‘Vilia’, somehow managing to work it into a story about the pair, who disappeared under the lectern to consummate their love with a sung running commentary from Shaw.
Shaw was upstaged by Fiona Cooper-Smyth, who pranced on in a new costume with a white feather fan. Shaw commandeered that one, but Cooper-Smyth found an enormous pink one to compensate. It made a nice prop for her next item: the duet from The Merry Widow with Hofmann. This gave way to Mozart’s duet from Don Giovanni, well performed and with a novel twist: Hofmann added a bit of unscripted falsetto, resulting in a kind of self-duet.
A quick costume change and a bit of business led to another Mozart piece, Papageno’s ‘Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja‘, sung by Hofmann in English with some clever wordplay, rendering, for example, ‘kiss’ as a rhyme for ‘amok’ instead of the more obvious reference to copulation.
The two ladies returned to the stage in pyjamas to join Hofmann in the sleepwalking scene from Phantom of the Opera, demonstrating some excellent harmonising. The pyjama motif continued with ‘I could have danced all night’ from My Fair Lady.
Shaw introduced a piano solo from Tomasso Pollio: the impressive theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. Pollio proved himself to be a theatrical soloist with a style reminiscent of Roger Woodward at his most dramatic. I had fears for the piano’s survival, but it sure was a mean rendition of this popular theme!
The two sopranos gave us a beautiful arrangement of ‘Over the Rainbow’ with intriguing harmonies. As we finished applauding, Hofmann returned to the stage with a couple of frilly red-and-white aprons, which the ladies dutifully donned join him a trio sung in German accents, about a household that thrives on a threesome. The ladies then left Hofmann alone on the stage to bewail his impoverished state with ‘If I were a rich man’ from Fiddler on the Roof.
Shaw and Cooper-Smyth returned from their quick change to render the ever-popular Habanera from Carmen as a duet, which segued nicely into the Toreador’s song from Hofmann, complete with cape. Shaw and Cooper-Smyth, in glamorous back dresses with red trim and embroidery, competed for his attention, but make no mistake, they were both Carmen. Not a Michaela in sight all evening. She wouldn’t stand a chance against these two.
Shaw and Hofmann gave us ‘A song that sounds like this’ from the musical Spamalot, giving Cooper-Smyth time to change into full white wedding garb. She joined Hoffman for ‘All I ask of you’ from Phantom of the Opera, giving Shaw time to change into her own version of the blushing bride. Hoffman quietly sneaked away while the ladies did a bit of their usual upstaging before launching into a sequence that started with the Halleluiah chorus and somehow morphed into ‘Mama Mia’ in an arrangement that carried hints of Metallica. They ended by throwing their bridal bouquets over their shoulders into the audience in time-honoured fashion, at which point Hofmann returned to take part in a finale that included some 16-bars of almost every operatic solo ever sung, ending with ‘Nessun Dorma’. The ‘Vincerò’ closing bars must have been heard all over Perth!
Overall, a nicely balanced piece of entertainment with lots of laughs, well-worth the price of admission. If you missed it this week, try your luck at 5.00PM this coming weekend, January 30 – Feb 1. But be sure to book in advance!
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
DivaLicious: Opera Rocks
Perth Festival Fringe, Cultural Centre, Perth
January 23-26 and Jan 30-Feb 1.