4 Min Read

Fun for all: The Princess and the Showgirl

The Princess and The Showgirl is based on the opera Adriana Lecouvreur by Cilea, and is your not-so-classic love triangle, where actress Adriana is in love with soldier-politician Maurizio, who is having an affair with the influential and therefore useful Mrs Prince, aka the Princess. The change in title reflects the shift in focus from just Adriana (Hattie Marshall) to Mrs Prince (Nicole Youl), making them a double-act of passion and heartbreak.

I had been warned that this opera is famous for its complicated plot and the constant confusion of characters, so, being an uneducated newcomer to opera on top of that I was feeling trepidatious as we entered the beautifully adorned Fremantle Town Hall for the show. Even though it was not designed to be a theatre, the Corinthian columns and Victorian-Classical decor had the right elevated feel about it for opera. My anxiety was assuaged when I read director Penny Shaw’s note in the program that said their main focus when putting together this show was clarity. She aimed to clear up the confusion between “Adriana’s two rivals; her theatrical nemesis, La Duclos… and the Princess, with whom she is competing for Maurizio’s affection.” This clarity she and musical director Tommaso Pollio achieved splendidly, if I had seen the show without reading about it I would not have guessed at its reputation for confusion. Between the two rivals the Princess, Adriana’s rival in love, gets the spotlight, as La Duclos appears only fleetingly and gets a very funny moment when what looks like will be her moment to sing is cut off by a blackout.

Princess and The Showgirl, Freeze Frame Opera. Photography Vin Trikeriotis.

Hattie Marshall as Adriana Lecouvreur brought glamour to the role as usual, portraying a smitten Adriana with child-like glee, and busting out enough vibrato to fell a horse. Rosario La Spina gave heartthrob Maurizio gravitas and passion, and wowed us with his gorgeous voice, which suddenly justified the adoration these two ladies have for him.

The Princess, played by Nicole Youl, tugged on my heartstrings more than I expected considering she was set up to be the rival, and even though she plays all sorts of mean tricks, director Penny Shaw gave her the space to explore her motivations and win the audience’s sympathy. In my opinion Nicole was the strongest actor on stage; her fury, desperation, and dread was palpable in the audience.

The supporting cast were all wonderful singers, including Kohsei Gilkes as Mr Abate. He projected a commanding voice and despite seeming too young by far to believably be the competent assistant to the controlling husband, his eminently punchable face and camp smugness perfectly conveyed the authority to be the yes-man to Mr Prince’s powerful politico.

As an uneducated waif off the street when it comes to opera, I still find the necessity to read surtitles from a screen off to the side off-putting, especially when I can tell they are saying more than has been translated. Reassuringly, Penny Shaw’s direction combined with some very operatic over-the-top acting meant I could easily follow where we were, and often make inferences about the dialogue without having to read it.

Princess and The Showgirl, Freeze Frame Opera. Photography Vin Trikeriotis.

Jerry Reinhardt’s lighting was gorgeous and evocative, the off-stage lights implying the actual stage where the actors perform were brilliant, and when (spoilers) Adriana dies and is covered by a fluffy white rug the dim light gave her an ethereal, other-worldly glow. And, of course, the spotlight on Adriana when she gives Phaedra’s (gleefully malicious) monologue from Hippolytus reminded us that this is a master of her craft at work, and time stopped until she allowed it to start again.

Rhiannon Walker pulled out all the stops with her 1950s New York inspired outfits, including the gorgeous glittery dresses of the party scene, without which is it really an opera? The Ancient Roman outfits of the actors in Act 1 need a special mention, especially Emma Pettemerides and Ruth Burke’s gorgeous gold dresses that made me immediately jealous.

The action on stage kept me occupied enough that I didn’t get to watch the band much, but Quattro Formaggi were fantastic at making four musicians sound like an entire orchestra supporting the cast.

Freeze Frame Opera say no to gatekeeping and have once again created a show that is fun, impressive, and accessible for new audiences. Opera newbies like myself can watch The Princess and The Showgirl without fear of feeling looked down upon, and just enjoy the spectacle.