World-class musical packaged in Estonia
The Phantom of the Opera at the Vanemuine theatre is not a copy of the production staged in London or New York, hence the audience is not presented a ready-to-use product such as a McDonald’s hamburger or similar.Rather a classical cheese pizza made by a tradition-loving pizza chef is offered – a success in every way, meeting all of the recipient’s expectations.
Director Georg Malvius, set designer Iir Hermeliin, costume designer Ellen Cairns and many others have only added their own accents to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical.All of this results in good-quality entertainment that at given times touches the souls of the audience.
At the premiere on Saturday the team at the Vanemuine – starting with the ballet troupe and the orchestra and ending with the choir – gave their all in order to make the performance a success.However, Hanna-Liina Võsa in the role of Christine Daaé (played by Maria Listra in the other cast) is a true gem. Her existence (to be read as „her voice“) in its own right demands that professional musicals be staged in Estonia.
True, the stage of the Vanemuine seems too small for one of the most successful musical production of all times – The Phantom of the Opera – that premiered in London in 1986 and has been seen by about 130 million people. Also, at times one would have wished for the possibility to turn the volume up a bit.
While on the course of finding flaws one must say that the Norwegian Stephen Hansen’s Estonian pronunciation was disturbing. It was hard to get rid of the vision of a man forced to sing with a hot potato in his mouth.It would be very exciting to compare him with Kalle Sepp in the role of the Phantom in the other cast, but for understandable reasons it is not possible here.One must also admit that, at times, the text presented by the choir was also hard to comprehend.
A very pleasant surprise was the role of Monsieur Firmin by Lauri Liiv.Those of us who, years ago, followed the launch of his musical career, can today find delight in the fact that besides good singing skills Lauri has also truly mastered his skills in acting.
Koit Toome in the role of Raoul also gives ever-convincing proof of having both guts as well as voice.Unfortunately the role itself does not give him much chance to show the former as his only task is to play a sweet and true lover and as such he is persuasive.
I would, however, highlight a few simple but effective tools used in the production.For example, the symbolic and beautiful journey taken to reach the home of the Phantom – the road to the kingdom of darkness crosses a foggy lake designed just below the ceiling of the Vanemuine.The audience sees how a boat is gliding – far, far away – as if unnoticed, from the right bank to the left, but in the boat we see the Phantom with the impeccable songstress Christine Daaé, whom he is incapable of sharing with anyone.When Raoul rescues the songstress the two row from the left bank to the right, to the bank of kindness.
In the production by the Vanemuine the Phantom is an unhappy soul who, due to his experience during the war, cannot determine the difference between good and the evil.The scarred man hides from the world in a grayish-brown cave that encompasses a bright and cosy candlelit world.Just as the Phantom’s home opens up as a cocoon, his soul also slowly opens up and his story unfolds, as inside he is simply a little boy in need of a caress.
A void has been filled
The premiere of The Phantom of the Opera at the Vanemuine is an event that theatre students must keep in mind for the future.Only five theatres in the world have been granted the right to give their own interpretation of the musical.
For a start the Vanemuine is entitled to give 40 performances.It is sufficient for Estonia, but as it is a musical not performed elsewhere in the region, the theatre has already accounted for an international audience – the performances have English and Finnish subtitles.
Naturally one may ask whether a state theatre must be the one to provide entertainment.As far back as Estonian theatre history goes, those working in theatre as well as those writing theatre reviews have engaged in a fight against musical productions thought to be frivolous.However, the audience has always loved operettas and now it loves musicals.Certainly there have been times when criticism has been justified, but at present the Estonian cultural scene rather lacks high-quality entertainment as experimental and exciting performances can be found at all times.
The Phantom of the Opera at the Vanemuine fills that void.Georg Malvius’s production does not cross boundaries, but it is indeed a safe and professionally made musical. Although everybody knows the melodies by heart, nobody will feel bored sitting in the hall.