The remarkable NZ Opera is a treasure of the New Zealand art and cultural landscape. There is a magic and mystique in wrapping up on dark night and entering the starlit wonderland of Auckland’s The Civic. Within these graceful walls, I’ve seen dance, theatre, film festivals, musicals and musicians. I’ve even seen a comedian or two. Listen to me truly, when I tell you that the NZ Opera run of Sweeney Todd is one of the greatest visual and musical feasts to reside at The Civic since I’ve been going to theatre. This is a must-see show with an incredibly limited season in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – Buy tickets here
Did I always love opera? Well, yes. My sister trained as an opera singer. I’ve seen, watched, devoured and occasionally sung an ensemble chorus of my own. But Sweeney Todd isn’t just an opera. This gruesome and deeply human tale of despair and darkness comes straight from the Penny Dreadful school of Victorian horror, complete with stunt blood and razor blades.
Did I always love opera the way I do now? No. The difference is the magnificent Teddy Tahu Rhodes. One of New Zealand’s finest operatic sons, this gentle giant is one of the principals of Opera Australia but has returned home to join the cast of Sweeney Todd as the tortured barber himself. His presence onstage is captivating; the haunted Todd played with a dark and cynical edge but not without humanity. This is ultimately a story about how darkly men and women on the brink of survival will turn.
I don’t want to ruin the intricate and tragic storyline – I have stealthily avoided the film of the same name, but fake blood in opera is somehow more tolerable! So I will say this – Sweeney Todd might be best experienced completely fresh. That way, the intoxicating Rhodes will capture you from the first moment – more than his presence onstage, the chilling bass-baritone tones take you on a journey through Todd’s tragic back story. This is not a story without humour either. Antoinette Halloran brings Todd’s partner-in-crime and master seductress, Mrs. Lovett to the stage with vibrancy and deft timing.
Despite a plot full of depravity, woeful twists of fate and murder (plenty of murder – sometimes three in a minute!), Sweeney Todd is full of deeply human, occasionally sweet moments and endearing characters. The protective ballad of Tobias Ragg (Joel Granger) is sad and sober, the desperation of the beggar woman tinged with comedy, delivered adeptly by the well-loved Helen Medlyn.
This season is limited, the show will close in Auckland on September 24, before moving to Wellington (30 Sept – 5th Oct) and Christchurch (12th Oct – 15th Oct). And this is perhaps the most important thing – do not miss the opportunity to engage with world-class opera. The crowd was mixed – young twenty-somethings, date nights and older families out together but it always does something to my heart when I see generations together enjoying cultural traditions and expressions in new ways. A modern opera, sung in English by some of our musical treasures. The work of NZ Opera and their long-term supporters cannot be praised enough when productions of this quality are accessible to so many New Zealanders.
Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
17 Sept – 15 Oct
Buy tickets here
A New Zealand Opera co-production with Victorian Opera, Sweeney Todd is directed by NZ Opera’s General Director, Stuart Maunder, and conducted by Benjamin Northey, Chief Conductor of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra. Accompanied by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Orchestra Wellington and Christchurch Symphony Orchestra. Featuring the Freemasons New Zealand Opera Ensemble
From the book by Hugh Wheeler
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
From an Adaptation by Christopher Bond
Originally Directed by Harold Prince
Originally produced on Broadway by Richard Barr, Charles Woodward, Robert Fryer, Mary Lea Johnson, Martin Richards.
In Association with Dean and Judy Manos.
By arrangement with Hal Leonard Australia Pty Ltd Exclusive agent for Music Theatre International (NY)