Many aspects of A Night in Venice could be easily adapted into a sitcom. The characters are archetype upon archetype — a corrupt duke, an Italian spaghetti chef and a trio of senators — and all provided clearly defined roles in the operetta.
Strauss’ operetta tells the story of the Duke of Urbino (Scott Rumble) who is setting out to seduce as many women as possible on the night of Carnival, which sets off a chain of tempestuous events. Lovers, husbands, wives and servants are confused and confused again.
UBC Opera’s A Night in Venice was — on the surface — a visually stunning performance. Upon entering the Chan Centre, Rebecca Burks’ Venetian street scene, complete with surprisingly realistic moving gondolas and multi-layered buildings, was a beautiful welcoming to the comedy-operetta that was to follow.
Performed in German and taking place in Venice and telling the story of crossed lovers and deception, the operetta might appear initially as a stereotype for what we see as “the Opera.” However, A Night in Venice is the opposite of this. Taking place during Carnival, the colours, costumes and music were vivid, energetic and beautiful. Nothing about the libretto (F. Zell and Richard Genée) was unsolvable through song and dance, which provided both a means for humour and sometimes confusion — all a part of the fun.
This fun was not just limited to the onstage performance. Before Act I and in the intermission, UBC's Arts and Culture District were present with a costumed photo booth, complete with masks and giant Instagram screen. The crowded lobby was almost reminiscent of an Italian Carnival, particularly when cast members were found wandering among the audience.
The company took over the entire stage with a mesmerising quartet at the end of Act I making use of the balconies at either end, the main stage and the building sets, providing a stunning vocal backdrop. In every scene there was an element of eavesdropping – whether scripted or a directorial choice of chorus members peering out of windows, it drew the audience into the story as though they were a part of the street scene in Venice.
Director Nancy Hermiston, who is the central keystone to every UBC Opera performance, took to the stage as Signora Ubriaco. Her performance was a flawless indicator to how the students in the opera program manage to pull off near-perfect large scale productions so frequently. Not only was Hermiston’s voice full of character, depth and musical virtuosity, her acting and chemistry with the other senator’s wives (Makenzie, Boyle, Leila Kirves, Amira McCavitt, Shante van Horlick and Gwen Yearwood) and Rumble as the Duke only enhanced the scene further.
Ian McCloy and Tamar Simon as lovers Pappacoda and Ciboletta were a delight in every scene. Providing an almost Mrs. Lovett/Sweeney Todd dynamic as they danced with a meat cleaver in hand, both voices were truly stunning and their acting game was strong.
The UBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the wonderfully animated Jonathan Girard, was an excellent base for the performance.
Another notable performance undoubtedly deserving of congratulations was Geoffrey Schellenberg (Senator Delacqua) whose physical comedy was second only to his passionate vocalization of the role. Nicole Brooks’ Annina was flawless vocally and from the moment she stepped onstage, was a picture of grace.
A Night in Venice was truly a night of unapologetic, pure fun. Although the story was ridiculous and unbelievable, there wasn’t a moment where the audience didn’t react with shock, laughter, excitement and joy. The UBC Opera Ensemble were clearly passionate about their performance on the Chan Centre stage and this tied in immaculately to the final result.
A Night in Venice continues until February 7. Tickets are available online.