Saturday, December 07, 2019

The Enchantress – womanising royals, scheming advisers and an opera singer threatening a trio of prima donnas (NI Opera Studio until 8 December)

As playboy Prince Ivan gets ready to assume the Zergovia throne from Regent Milock, he must choose a princess to be his queen from the bevy of women who flock around him trying to catch his wandering eye. But can Ivan resist the power-hungry forces who try to provoke his abdication and steer a commoner, the fine opera singer Vivien, into his sights?

NI Opera Studio have a reputation of producing accessible operettas to develop and showcase the talents of their young singers. Victor Herbert’s The Enchantress (with book and lyrics by Fréderique de Grésac and Harry B. Smith) has been considerable shortened, modernised and improved by NI Opera’s dramaturg Judith Wiemers and brought to life with Jennifer Rooney’s choreography and Kate Guelke’s direction in order to create an hour of fun theatre.

So many news stories and contemporary themes resonate with The Enchantress: the womanising of men in power like Prince Andrew and President Trump, the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle’s desire to step away from some royal traditions, the scheming behaviour of political special advisers, confusion about calling vs career, and our obsession with fulfilment over integrity. The objectification of women is familiar, the struggle to be respected as independently-minded and monied can still be an issue today.

David Corr’s lazy Regent Milock is advised by “something smells fishy” Troute (Ben Escorcio), a figure who is reluctant to let go of the power behind the throne. Womanising Prince Ivan is played by Vladimir Mihai-Simai, backed up by seemingly less effective courtier Poff (Jakob Mahase) who reckons romance may get in the way of complicated trade deals.

The appearance of Zoë Jackson’s glittery opera soprano Vivien, the titular enchantress, enacts the scheming plans and sets up the Prince’s dilemma. A trio of maiden princesses (demure Ana-Maria Acunune, broad-accented Mary McCabe, and cross-dressed counter tenor David Lee) offer up a very dainty Once there was a very happy little princess before Acunune steals the show with Art is calling for me and her desire “to be a prima donna” and to “shine upon the stage” rather than be married.

Keith McAlister’s spritely piano accompaniment keeps the show moving. The lyrics are easy to follow, the connecting dialogue is full of mirth, and at one point Macarena dance moves add to the sense of farce. The cast step off the sparse black stage and walk amongst the audience who are seated around tables. Props fly, bubbles are blown, tea is well and truly spilt, and the plot zig zags with increasing speedy twists and turns towards its will-they-won’t-they conclusion.

With performances in Derry’s Culturlann and Belfast’s Black Box under their belts, you have one more chance to enjoy this production of The Enchantress on Sunday evening at 7.30pm in Accidental Theatre in Shaftesbury Square.

Cartoon: Mary McCabe

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