This dramatic, engaging Opera Australia production of West Side Story echoes in modern times the 16th Century Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet, with the “star-cross’d lovers” set among 1950s New York gangs.
It is refreshing to see Opera Australia presenting a classic modern opera/musical rather than merely reciting the grand operatic works of yesteryear. No art form can survive unless it deals with issues in contemporary life and culture.
Tension has built up between two rival gangs in New York’s Upper West Side – the Jets, born in America of Polish roots and led by Riff (Noah Mullins), and the Sharks (Puerto Ricans led by Bernardo (Temujin Tera) who have migrated to the US. The fight for dominance is vividly portrayed in a powerful, aggressive dance between the two gangs.
Riff’s best friend Tony (Nigel Huckle) agrees reluctantly to help the Jets although Tony feels he has grown out of the gang and dreams of a better future. Huckle sings brilliantly the classic “Something’s coming”.
Bernardo has chosen his sister Maria (Sophie Salvesani) to marry Chino (Tomas Kantor), yet Maria has eyes for Tony at the dance, much to the annoyance of the Sharks’ leader.
Later that evening the now smitten Tony in the “balcony scene” sings “Maria” to his new love. They promise to love each other in the spectacular song “Tonight”.
The Puerto Rican young ladies perform the sardonic “America “ – “Everything free in America, for a small fee in America”.
When police officer Krupke questions the Jets, the gang makes jokes about him and the police in “Gee, Officer Krupke” – a sociologist’s delight.
Huckle and Salvesani sing together magnificently. They embody the hope of young love in the face of adversity.
Alas, as Shakespeare wrote elsewhere, the course of true love never did run smooth.
This performance is indeed a night to remember – wonderful song and superb dance!
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
– William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Arthur Laurents
Original production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins
Artistic director Lyndon Terracini
Performance time 2 hours 20 minutes with one interval.
Runs 24 July to 22 August 2021