Critical Reviews

Our of the Box Productions – Opera Erotique

Reviewed by Paula Citron

Out of the Box Productions, under creators Gwen Dobie and William Mackwood, puts on shows of immense imagination and strong theatrical values.

Opera Erotique is a play interspersed with famous arias. Arro is an opera singer who has created two cybernetic sex toys, one who dances, and another who sings. When he introduces his real live opera singer girlfriend to the two robots, complications follow, and all told through beautiful music.

The story contains a multiplicity of themes – the victimization of women in opera, the pain of performance, the exploration of the erotic – just to mention a few. The performers are opera singers and one dancer, but their acting is uncommonly good and their singing is passionate.

Soprano Adria McCulloch, mezzo-soprano Margaret Bárdos, baritone Alexander Hajek and dancer Lina Jimenez Nykwist give sparkling performances. Pianist Christina Faye and cellist Liza McLellan make beautiful music.

Catch this compelling little show if you can. Opera Erotique continues at the Tranzac Club until Saturday.

Opera Erotique- Out of the Box Productions

Created by Gwen Dobie and William Mackwood

Starring Adria McCulloch, Margaret Bárdos, Alexander Hajek and Lina Jimenez Nykwist (with Christina Faye, piano and Liza McLellan, cello)

Tranzac Club, Jun. 2 to 5, 2010

OE Image for Website
Soprano Adria McCulloch and Lina Jimenez Nykwist

Straight of Georgia: Island Tides

December 2-15, 2004

Show Review ~ Clare & Barry Mathias

Opera and Dance Out of The Box

Those Pender Islanders who regularly attend artistic events will know that there are moments when something remarkable occurs. If you were one of the forty or so audience members who attended the `Out of the Box Productions’ November 23 performance of Opera Erotique at the Community Hall, you will know that this was one of those rare occasions. A clever set, remarkable lighting and a thoughtful seating arrangement produced an intimate atmosphere. The three operatic singers and one dancer were excellent: powerful, sensuous, vibrant and well-suited to their parts.

The opera is set in the distant future when the use of cybernetics is common. Matthew Leigh plays baritone Arro, an expert in cybernetics, who revisits the attic of an old opera house with his girlfriend, mezzo soprano Igma (Melissa Schiel). Arro reveals his `toys,’ which he had created some years earlier-two deactivated female cybernetic performers, each perfect in its discipline and both immune to the pain of performance. Ballos (Jung-Ah Chung), a mute dancer of sensitive grace and outstanding flexibility and Anaman (Panthea), a beautiful lyric soprano, are activated by Arro and slowly reconnect with their human counterparts.

All four discover that what they seemingly lack and desire the most belongs to the other. They are drawn into a tumultuous and erotic tumble, in which they sing and dance to please themselves, ending in the inevitable realization that they will all lose their souls.

The opera lasted an hour and ten minutes with no interval, which added to the dramatic tension. Fifteen well-known arias from famous operas were cleverly woven into a plot that at first seemed fairly predictable, yet soon realized its potential. As the humorous and symbolically erotic scenes progressed, enhanced greatly by the remarkable dancing of Jung Ah Chung, the combination of voice and movement produced a powerfully emotional ending that reduced many in the audience to tears.

The live music provided by cellist Silvina Samuel, and pianist Andrea Lahmer added immeasurably to the enjoyment. The deep, mellow tones of Silvina’s cello subtly increased the intensity of the dramatic moments.

It must be said, however, that soprano Panthea was outstanding in a cast of performers who had no weaknesses. She sang with beautiful tone and without the usual strong vibrato associated with opera singers. Her deep conviction, combined with her fluid dance and acrobatic routines, together with her powerful presence as an actor, was truly remarkable. It is possible that Panthea may return to the Island to perform a one-woman show next year-there is no doubt the hall will be packed.

A big thank you to Jill Moran who arranged this visit, and even organized a theatre bar! We have no idea why so few attended this wonderful performance, but the performers said it was the most appreciative audience they had encountered on their present tour. It was certainly a memorable occasion, and we look forward to the next visit by Out of the Box Productions.

Critical Reviews from Victoria 2004

Times Colonist- Adrian Chamberlain

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Come for the eroticism… if you must. But stay for the wonderful music.

Opera Erotique is, in a way, merely an excuse to assemble some lovely arias and art songs. These range from early works such as a piece from Monteverdi’s 1607 opera, L’Orfeo (often cited as the first opera ever) to selections by Puccini and Offenbach. All are extremely well sung by a trio of young vocalists. For that alone, devotees of opera will find this 75 minutes of song, dance and theatre worth seeking out.

With Opera Erotique, a new Victoria company called Out of the Box Productions wanted to do more than stage a recital. Co-directors Gwen Dobie and William Mackwood have spun an improbable web to capture sprinkles of musical magic.

They’ve created a story about futuristic opera-bots constructed by a singer called Arro (baritone Matthew Leigh). He brings his flesh-and-blood lover, another opera singer called Igma (contralto Melissa Schiel), into a theatre attic containing the life-like robots. One of the ‘bots is a beautiful bald singer (a soprano who calls herself Panthea); the other is a mute dancer played by Jung-Ah Chung.

But this is not any garden variety opera-bot yarn — it’s an erotique opera-bot yarn. With this in mind, Leigh and Schiel made their entrance kissing passionately.Later, the opera-bots sprang to life, wearing Victoria Secret outfits and sporting glittery Star Trek-style devices on their cheeks. Panthea’s character seduces Igma with kisses and hugs. Meanwhile, Arro is enthralled by the wordless dancer who engages her master in enthusiastic frottage and caps her Dance of the Seven Veils by gymnastically lifting her leg to his shoulder. The Out of the Box folk have several objectives. Most obviously, sex sells… and it’s fun, too.

Beyond that, several themes percolate beneath the surface. For one thing, Opera Erotique pokes fun at the victimization of female characters in opera. They always seem to die in the end: Tosca flings herself off the parapet, and even feisty old Carmen gets stuck with a dagger. It’s no coincidence, then, that male chauvinist oinker Arro has taken things a step further, creating gorgeous female robots who are ageless and are willing to do his bidding. In practical terms, such a story line provides dramatic context that a recital cannot. The songs — ably accompanied by cellist Silvina Samuel and pianist Susu Robin — are mostly about amour. For instance, Omnia sol temperat from Carmina Burana is about love and modesty, and Deh, vieni alla finestra from Don Giovanni is a hero’s serenade to a maid.

The open-minded opera lover will find this all rather fun — Opera Erotique is indeed sexy. I confess to having found some of the lines real clunkers though. One opera-bot speaks of “riding his (Arro’s) arousal,” and (if my penned-in-the-dark notes are accurate) Igma actually says: “Now you’re arousing my clitoris, and she my curiosity.”

The music is great, though. There are moments of breath-taking beauty. On Thursday night, I heard someone behind me actually gasp after Panthea’s wonderful Vissi d’arte from Tosca, which she, as an opera-bot, sang lying down. It was powerful and heartfelt — her voice has a thrilling dramatic edge. All the singers are strong; Leigh possesses a fine, handsome baritone voice, and Schiel not only boasts a velvety contralto, she displayed bona fide acting smarts as well. Chung danced well — her robotic shuddering in and out of life was especially intriguing. That said, the dance element does seem rather tacked on. I’d rather have seen a fourth singer.

In my view it’s the singing that makes Opera Erotique. In the words of one of the opera-bots: “Too many words are irrelevant… worship the song.” (© Copyright  2004 Times Colonist (Victoria)

Monday Magazine

Posted May 13th, 2004

TOYS IN THE ATTIC- Opera Erotique and the diva ideal

By Naomi Lester

Opera Erotique examines the passion of the artist for their art just as much as it does the passion of man for woman, woman for man or, in this case, person for robot. Yeah, okay, it’s a bit different, but it’s clever.

This is the first work by Victoria’s new Out of the Box Productions and, as such, it sets an interesting baseline for future ventures. Designed for a small venue (in this case, the Victoria Multicultural Centre), this “lounge opera” is created for a small stage, minimal sets (a rotating pile of packing trunks) and a lean cast of three singers, one dancer and two musicians (Silvina Samuel, cello, and Susu Robin, piano)—but what the opera lacks in bulk, it makes up for in intensity. Operatic voices, trained to fill large halls, vibrate like a wall of electricity in the space.

The storyline is one small, intense vignette. Set in a future time when cybernetics are possible, Arro (Mathew Leigh, baritone), creates a pair of opera-bots, Anaman (Panthea, soprano) and Ballos (Jung-Ah Chung, dancer), who are perfect, ideal performers able to deliver the great tragic female roles—and Arro’s bedroom fantasies—night after night. However, their imperishable beauty palls on fickle audiences and they go into storage in the attic above the opera house. When the scene starts, he’s brought his current flame, Igma (Melissa Schiel, mezzo-soprano), up to the attic for a fling with the bots before he switches them off for good. Igma, imperfect but filled with passion, connects with the flawless but passionless androids. All the women are victims of the old creed that will not let strong, self-possessed heroines survive the opera stage, and all are incomplete without the experience of Art that will ultimately destroy them . . . and all are prey to Arro’s machinations.

The dialogue is acted in English with 15 solo arias, duets and ensemble pieces sung in their original languages. Overall, the acting was good. Chung’s dancer character is silent, her voice supplied by the cello, and her dramatic talents were key to the success of the part; she was superb, even in a small space with little room to stretch out. The musicians and singers were very good, especially Panthea and Schiel. Schiel’s command of the dramatic, most notably in the closing piece (Massenet’s Va! Laisse couler mes larmes) was as good as anything I’ve seen on the “big” stage.

Opera Erotique is fresh and challenging. There was occasional awkwardness with the song set-ups—it must be hard to find convincing ways of explaining why someone is suddenly going to break into a Rossini aria. Nevertheless, there is humour, thought and a lot of talent in this production. As for the eroticism—it’s there and it’s pushing the boundaries, but it’s graceful. There is nothing, in my opinion, that crosses the line. Recommended for all people and robots over 18.

—Naomi Lester

Opera Erotique- Victoria Multicultural Centre,