The Chimney Sweep

Lynne Lancaster

Pinchgut's production of Salieri's romp matches joyous, witty fun with exquisite, enchanting music.
The Chimney Sweep

Pinchgut Opera’s The Chimney Sweep by Antonio Salieri is a naughtily delicious, sensational production with magnificent playing and singing. As their first show for the year Pinchgut’s surprisingly hot and steamy rendition of Salieri’s rarely heard The Chimney Sweep delights both musically and visually. The team weave their magic mightily, redeeming the reputation of the man who's suffered so much at the hand of Peter Shaffer’s 1984 Amadeus.

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Superbly directed by Mark Gaal and accompanied by one of Australia’s finest group of musicians, the Orchestra of the Antipodes, the magnificent ensemble cast are outstanding. Led by Maestro Dr Erin Helyard, they entrance and enthrall as they act out Salieri’s delightful romp. The show is a ‘singspiel’, so there’s quite a lot of dialogue. It is sung in English with surtitles above the stage.

The show also has a moral aspect to it, as it is partly about music and money–especially the way in which one can be used to obtain the other. It also parodies the Italian and German opera styles of the day. The ridiculous almost fairy tale plot can be summarised as follows: Volpino (Stuart Haycock), a chimney sweep, wants to marry Lisel (Alexandra Oomens), a cook. So they can become rich, Volpino decides to fleece Mr Bear (David Wolozsko) and Mr Wolf (Christopher Saunders), the respective lovers of Mrs Hawk (Amelia Farrugia), and her stepdaughter Miss Hawk (Janet Todd), by persuading the two foolish and vain ladies to fall for his charms. Posing as a travelling music teacher, he deftly manipulates all sides against each other, winning against all odds at the end. Various subplot twists see the other servants also ending up bettering their masters. In an intriguing twist, Gaal has the maid Fränzl played by a man. All of this is just an excuse for Salieri’s glorious music and absolutely exquisite singing.

The main kitchen set with its huge yawning fireplace as designed by Emma Kingsbury is reminiscent in some ways of a Medieval morality play. The warm wooden colours are continued through some of the exquisite beautifully detailed costumes.    

Stuart Haycock is terrific as roguish Volpino–his names translates as ‘Fox'–full of assertive business and with a captivating Italian accent. He sings enchantingly with an easy charm in a role that artfully blends romantic lead with comic foil. His chosen feisty and outspoken Lisel is delightfully inhabited by Alexandra Oomens, with the vocal charms of a soubrette. That the two are made for each other, Volpino makes clear from the start.

Christopher Saunders and David Woloszko are the unfortunate Mr Wolf and Mr Bear and make a great double act. Saunders is a very watchable and impressive comic actor, relishing every moment in the limelight and excelling in his ‘storm’ aria. Woloszko is a pompous round red ball, stealing chocolates, ‘revelling in some cuddly campery’ and showing off his refined, magnificent bass. He has a showstopping aria about his mounting debts in Act 2.  

As the not too bright Hawks, Amelia Farrugia and Janet Todd are comic delights and vocally superb. Their Act 1 rival sing-off in the Italian and German styles is a riot. Farrugia plunges into the  predatory aspect of the role with delight and employs her rich soprano and dazzling coloratura to great effect. Todd is, perhaps, even funnier for being a trifle more understated, and is hilarious in the very demanding show stopping aria in Act 1’s ‘music lesson’ where she ends up naughtily straddling the harpsichord in a highly lascivious manner. She’s spot on vocally and her surly, pouting demeanour with huge eyes hides a razor-sharp vocal technique. Her aria bemoaning women’s adherence to fashion in support of male oppression is delightfully ahead of its time, while her revenge aria, where she explosively threatens her rival, brings the house down again.

David Hidden as Tomaso, leader of the sweeps, plus a crowd of exuberant apprentice chimney sweeps from the Sydney Children’s Choir, make a most exciting, dramatic and spectacular entrance through the audience to help Volpino and put a massive kitchen fire out (all is right in the end).  

It is all about the art of finding Mr Right and deceiving and seducing everyone in sight while having fun and games of the very best kind, one in which murky undertones are only acceptable when love becomes a commodity. If you fancy a little light operatic relief and joyous witty fun with exquisite enchanting music, then Pinchgut Opera’s production of Salieri’s The Chimney Sweep is for you.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars

The Chimney Sweep

Pinchgut Opera
Orchestra of the Antipodes
Music: Antonio Salieri
Libretto: Leopold Auenbrugger 
Conductor: Dr Erin Helyard
Director: Mark Gaal 
English lyrics: Andrew Johnston,dialogue translated by Mark Gaal
Designer:  Emma Kingsbury
Lighting designer:  Luiz Pampolja
Assistant director and choreography: Troy Honeysett
Cast: Stuart Haycock, Amelia Farrugia, Janet Todd, Alexandra Oomens, Christopher Saunders, David Woloszko, David Hidden, Nicholas Hiatt, Gary Clementson, Troy Honeysett, Sabryna Te'o, Sydney Children's Choir

City Recital Hall, Angel Place
www.pinchgutopera.com.au
5-7 July

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.