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West Side Story (Opera Australia) ★★★

ABR Arts 10 April 2019

West Side Story (Opera Australia) ★★★

ABR Arts 10 April 2019

Some sixty-two years after its Broadway première, Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins’s musical and geographical updating of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet continues to pack a powerful dramatic punch. While not without its weaknesses, such as the reliance on now-dated street slang and ethnic stereotypes, West Side Story remains a masterful fusion of musical and dramatic elements set to a score of operatic intensity. The work indeed has the distinction (albeit an increasingly less rare one at Opera Australia under the artistic direction of Lyndon Terracini) of finding a place in the repertoire of both opera house and music theatre.

Another stand-out feature is the unprecedentedly high level of dance elements integrated into its plot. West Side Story gives its dancing ensemble named, individualised, roles, and the dance sequences that unfold are central, not incidental, to the storytelling and overall character of the work. The success of these elements is also grounded ultimately in Bernstein’s score, and in particular his command of popular and jazz musical idioms (mixed in with what he had learned from his close familiarity with the music of Beethoven, Stravinsky, Ravel, and Mahler). The suite of music that Bernstein eventually drew from West Side Story has now become a staple orchestral work in its own right.

Comments (2)

  • Language has an uncanny habit of evolving in ways that can appear to have scant regard for the sanctity of origins. I am very well aware of the context in which the phrase first became known, but the 'evolved' (or, if you wish, simplified) meaning for which I use it here is totally in accord with its common and accepted usage today; even the OED defines it straightforwardly as meaning 'a thing that is partly good and partly bad'. And as 'cliches' go, it at least offers a writer the virtue of concision.
    Posted by Peter Tregear
    16 June 2019
  • The reviewer has adopted the common misuse of the curate’s egg cliche. Presumably he intended to convey that only some parts of the show were not good.
    However, the origin of the term is a 19th century Punch cartoon. A nervous young curate is having tea with a bishop. The curate is obviously finding something distasteful with his boiled egg. The bishop enquires whether there is anything wrong with the egg. “Oh no, my Lord” says the curate obsequiously, “I assure you it is good in parts.” The point being that an egg can only be wholly good or wholly bad.
    Posted by Peter Heerey
    02 May 2019

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