Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Phantom of National Opera

Photo by Stefan Bremer

Oopperan kummitus (The Phantom of the Opera), Finnish National Opera 
26.9.2015 matinee

Hanna-Liina Võsa, Ilkka Hämäläinen, Olli Tuovinen, Juha Eskelinen, Jussi Miilunpalo, Kaisa Ranta, Sari Nordqvist, Kai Pitkänen, Arto Hosio, Vilja Riutamaa and ensemble.

The Phantom of the Opera is a special musical to me. It’s been a huge part of my life for about nine years and I thank it for bringing me to the world of musicals. It’s been with me nearly half of my life and I love it. I love it to death. I’ve been lucky enough to see the original production in London three times. I’ve seen a non-replica production in Tallinn, Estonia (and I have another ticket to that for next spring). Both the original and the Estonian production I loved when I saw them. What about the non-replica in Helsinki, done by the Finnish national opera?

I hated it.

Yes. I hated it. The production had lost ALL that makes the musical so wonderful for me. The production brought up all the weaknesses of the musical and drowned the best of it. This I mostly blame on the direction of Tiina Puumalainen. It didn’t focus on characters and their arcs. The show lacked flow. The scenes felt separate from each other.

Show like The Phantom of the Opera needs great visuals and costume design to work. It’s meant to be a spectacle. The sets of Teppo Järvinen had its moments but mainly it was very boring. The costumes of Marjaana Mutanen were something I didn’t expect to see on this level. And by this level I mean the National opera. The costumes reminded me of high school productions of the show. There were only a few costumes I liked. But even those costumes and the sets didn’t go well together. The worst was “Masquerade”. The set was actually good and I really liked the staircase but the costumes? They didn’t go along at all. Black and white themes costumes which lacked the grand design of the original production. The lyrics at the scene go “Take your fill - let the spectacle astound you!” Sorry, that didn’t happen. At least not to me.

And the chandelier? Reminded me of Christmas ornaments. Not kidding. But the fall was nice enough.

As for the portrayals of the characters I had grown to love so much? Hanna-Liina Võsa was nice as Christine. But she lacked backbone. The story was no longer about her and how she grows as a person to let go of her father’s memory and say no to the Phantom who has controlled her. It was not about Christine’s choice between Phantom and Raoul and her father.

Ilkka Hämäläinen as Phantom… His greatest moment was during the overture when he just stood in the middle of the stage. That was the moment Phantom was most present in the whole show. It was his most threatening moment. Hämäläinen sings well. Acting could have given me more. The Phantom was like an angry preteen who didn’t get what he wanted. Or toddler who gets angry when he doesn’t get candy. And Phantom lacked presence. In the original the story is made scary with Phantom being present all the time. Even when you didn’t see him you could believe he was there haunting the place. In this production Phantom was present only when he was on stage. And he wasn’t threatening at all.

Olli Tuovinen was to me perhaps the best of the three. And then came the second act and I had to give that place to Võsa. He started with what fans call “superhero Raoul”. But the second act was shouting to thin air and him being just so angry. He wasn’t a young man in love with a girl from his childhood. When the final decision for Christine came, I wouldn’t have chosen Raoul. He became violent and not someone who would keep her safe and love her. Nor would I have chosen Phantom but you know, he was a murderer and a stalker.

The highlight of acting were Kaisa Ranta as Carlotta Guidicelli and surprisingly Arto Hosio as Monsieur Reyer. The first knew when to be funny and gave the character dimension. The latter gave a very one dimensional character more personality than anyone I have seen in the role before.

To me the most problematic thing was, in the end, the direction. The national opera had resources to make this one of the grandest productions of Phantom ever. They have a large ensemble with awesome ballet dancers? Did they make this their strength? No. The ballet scenes were cut short for unnecessary humor. The lack of movement was a big flaw in the production. People tended just to stand on stage and not move. There was no expression in movement.

What about the good stuff? The orchestra was grand. They were awesome. The orchestra is the largest in a Phantom production ever and it paid off. Even though I have to say that me and my friend, who like me is a big fan of the musical, both couldn’t help laughing for the castanets in The Point of no return.

I paid a good price for my seats in the 4th row. But I wish I didn’t. With the money spent to travel to see the musical and get the ticket could have get me tickets to the original production. And a covered a good amount of the travel expenses. The production sold out before the premiere and I am glad I won’t have a chance to see it again. Even though I wonder how the show would have been with different leads as the show is double casted.

I can’t wait to see the Estonian production again with direction I liked a lot more than this one. And I wish for the next chance to see the original splendour.