by Fiona Cooper Smyth
Aldo Di Toro gave the performance of his life as The Phantom and completely embodied this tormented character! His voice went from a blood-curdling boom intended to scare all the cast to a tender, velvety tone which reached into a highly controlled falsetto in his attempt to lure his protégé Christine Daas, played by soprano Stephanie Gooch who epitomised the innocence and emotional dilemma of the role. Like Aldo, Stephanie had a voice to melt the musical melodies she sang and both voices entwined themselves in harmony as did their characters in the sexual tension that ensued.
Christine is torn between feeling sorry for her musical mentor, The Phantom, his love for her, and the love of her child-hood sweet-heart, Raoul, The Viscount, dramatically played by musical theatre heart-throb Nick Maclaine, who was always present at the right moment and provided an upright contrast to the passionate Phantom. Emma Pettemerides sparkled as the diva Carlotta with a beautiful coloratura voice that matched her big Italianate personality and provided a foil for experienced tenor Jay Weston as the aptly cast Pavarotti-like Piangi.
Supported by consummate cameo performances by the aptly austere and rather foreboding character of Madam Giry played by Alinta Carroll and actors Ian Toyne as Andre and Igor Sas as Firmin who are trying desperately run the theatre themselves and not be influenced by the demands of The Phantom.
Director Mark Barford cleverly made the transition between on-stage cast performing and the cast acting as if in rehearsal as smoothly as possible and the audience felt part of the scene. It even included conductor and producer Ian Westrip taking on the role of Maestro Reyer, who had to interact with the cast as if in rehearsal whilst conducting the orchestra who were in fine form and provided a strong musical springboard for the singing and dancing on stage.
The chorus were sounded superb as it can be said that the chorus role in Phantom is demanding and singers need to have a wide range of notes in their voices. This was accomplished extremely well and often provided huge body of sound on which the ballet dancers, choreographed by Ben Franzen could metaphorically bounce off. It could be said that there may have been some overcrowding on stage at times with such a huge chorus and dance troupe due to the set design with curtains cutting off half the stage, but this was handled as well as could be on The Regal Stage and one must realise that this is a home-grown production of professional standards, funded by one visionary (impresario Ian Westrip OAM) yet without the million dollar budget of an Andrew Lloyd Webber West End production.
In fact much commendation should go to the production team who, on a limited budget, produced a cleverly motorised gondolier for Christine and Phantom to sail around the labyrinth under the opera house; a magical mirror that Christine was able to walk through to join The Phantom; and even the huge chandelier that expertly yet safely descended at one of the many dramatic moments in the show! You could feel the remorseful torment and dejection of the Phantom at the end of the show and I am sure there was not a dry eye amongst the audience – most of whom gave a well-deserved standing ovation to this Perth production.