Might those obstreperous tourists, in the summer of 2019, ever have imagined that their littering, pilfering and profanities would make it to the opera stage?
The genesis of NZ Opera’s The Unruly Tourists, which premiered on Thursday night, has been almost as controversial. From the beginning, librettists Livi Reihana and Amanda Kennedy flaunted their operatic ignorance, while composer Luke Di Somma was best known for his rock musical That Bloody Woman.
Presented in the round, director Thomas de Mallet Burgess fuelled the confrontation between foul-mouthed foreigners and the righteous Kiwi public with seasoned flair.
Ebony Andrew’s karakia-like solo hinted at later twists in the plot, but the evening set off as a vividly vulgar vaudeville under the mirror ball.
The family was headed by matriarch Jennifer Ward-Lealand, in Kelly green from flared trousers to high hair. They dealt out vituperation and snappy one-liners, with a powerful Joshua Cramond putting his stamp of ownership on the role of Tommy.
Their Hobbiton ensemble, toying with the proper pronunciation of Matamata, was a stand-out.
The company’s opera singers, in a uniformly impressive voice, represented law, order and respectability, burdened, alas, with long Kiwi beaks extending from their caps.
Robert Tucker moved effortlessly from the cracker quartet of Newsroom “Mikes” to star as Phil Goff, with a savagely satirical song that had the crackle of Brecht and Weill. And we were encouraged to sing along at the end.
The Unruly Tourists tried to say too much, however, and took a little too long to do so, as the spotlight slipped from our unpleasant visitors to the rapacious media.
A powerful scene would, too often, be followed by a disappointingly limp one. An encore celebrating the virtues of being a tidy Kiwi jarred after Ebony Andrew had, in the show’s one big ballad, transported us to a higher plane.
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra played Luke Di Somma’s beachside waltzes and minimalist washes with charm but, particularly in the first half, there was too little material and too much repetition.
What: The Unruly Tourists
Where: Bruce Mason Centre