Often acclaimed as the preeminent Lloyd Webber/Rice opus, this heroic, drama-filled, sung-through musical is an apt non-opera Opera Australia production. The historic political story of the life and death of Argentinian icon, Eva Peron – affectionately known as Evita – has particular resonance in the current zeitgeist of new feminism and examination of power. Arguments still persist about whether the poverty-born actress who married her way into leadership should be worthy of worship or scorn. Evita takes neither side, presenting the story and the main character with an even balance of light and shade, allowing audiences to make up their own mind.
The staging is deliberately minimal and verges on surreal, modelled apparently on Brechtian theatre. Rice’s lyrics definitely have the bawdy invective of Brecht – good for some frequent laughs. There is the questionable use of a very large screen over the stage which almost continuously projects real black and white newsreel footage of Eva Peron and various historic events. It’s incongruous with the action on stage and adds nothing to plot or mood. More effective as a device is the moving tableau chorus – ensemble singers frozen in a group pose who move simultaneously across the stage. It’s a great visual gag. In fact there is some impressive choreography in this production.
Of course, the main attraction is Tina Arena as Evita. The seasoned performer exuded confidence, presence, control, and proved herself to be a credible actor. Her voice is beyond praise. When she sings the audience is spellbound. She has one big moment, alone on stage, singing You Must Love Me which is breathtaking for her rendition – the song itself doesn’t match her ability. Naturally, the other highlight is Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina which is also stunning and alas, does not have space after it to allow for what would undoubtedly be a resounding ovation.
Kurt Kansley is also standout as Che Guevera who acts as a narrator and has a lot of stage time. A very poignant song and moment is Another Suitcase In Another Hall, sung by Juan Peron’s mistress, a minor role with a star-maker tune. Some of the music sounds dated, but it mostly holds up well. It’s worth being familiar with the real story, as the plot is pretty dense and the lyrics are fast and clever and sometimes hard to catch.
See it for Tina.
Until Nov 3. Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney. $49.90-$299.90+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.sydneyoperahouse.com
Reviewed by Rita Bratovich