West Side Story at Malmö Opera – The must-see-musical of the autumn!

Photo: Katja Tauberman

Here at scandinavianways we aim to give you advice on where to go and what to see that has premium quality, in our region. Today we want to let you in on what will soon become a major hit in the Øresound region – Malmö Opera‘s new production of West Side Story. It hasn’t even premiered yet but we are still going to rave abut this magic performance after having seen one of the last rehearsals before the premiere this Friday, August 31st.

The team behind this production is a very interesting one. Internationally acclaimed director Kasper Holten used to be Opera Director of the Royal Danish Opera as well as he has been Opera Director at Covent Garden in London. He has directed numerous productions of opera around the world. To this team he has brought Anja Vang Kragh who has designed all costumes – her resumé speaks for itself; she has worked for John Galliano, Dior and Stella McCartney. Holten also brought in Signe Fabricius as choreographer as well as Steffen Aarfing for scenography. Signe Fabricius is actually Holtens wife. We find that interesting, as some couples work very well together, enhancing each others creative expressions. Holten-Fabricius definitely seem to be among those that do just that. The team even includes their own stunt coordinator! And what a team effort they have pulled off!

Photo: Katja Tauberman

We were totally blown away at the preview! Still one week from premiere this is already music perfection! Bernsteins jazzy and rhythmic composition and orchestration with full, reverberating sound under conductor Magnus Fryklund – who does a marvelous job by the way! Not only with the orchestra but with achieving complete balance between the orchestra and the vocalists on stage.

The singing in musicals can often, especially in American Broadway musicals, be overplayed and formatted to shine and show off. But here – the key pieces are performed with restraint, making Sondheims lyrics come out even stronger. Oh and yes, this is a Swedish production so yes it has been translated – by no-one less then Jason  “Timbuktu” Diakité – a swedish rapper / artist / author, nationally acclaimed as a language equilibrist. Timbuktu has got the essence out of Sondheims lyrics and has done a marvelous job!

Photo: Malin Arnesson

Anton Zetterholm and Frida Johansson are a magic match as Tony and Maria. Frida Johansson has sung the part before at Norrlandsoperan and yes – she is an opera singer. She has performed as Papagena in Mozart’s The Magic Flute / Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm and Despina in Cosi fan Tutte at the Drottningholms Slottsteater. Anton Zetterholm had his international breakthrough as Enroljas at the Queens theater in London – even though he has worked around Europe for many years before. Lately he had the part of Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera at Cirkus in Stockholm. When these two voices meet in their love song “Tonight” it just turns to music perfection. Soothing, beautiful and in total harmony.

West Side Story is actually very hard to perform as many tones have a dissonant sound and boarders jazz whilst others borders opera and some borders pop – placing high demands for vocal perfection and competence. Anton Zetterholm and Frida Johansson master all on their plate. Kitty Chan’s Anita also has us blown away in “America” with her voice that instantly has us thinking of Barbra Streisand in her prime. 

Photo: Malin Arnesson

We also have to talk about the scenography and choreography. Holten wanted to set West Side Story in New York – as usual – with respect for what the audience expects in terms of facade staircases and other scenographic features that resonates with New York of the 1950’s – but he wanted to do it in a way that makes it “theater time” – a non existing time that could be then, could be now, could be any time.

The audience will definitely feel that we are in the “here and now”, not just because of Steffen Aarfing’s fabulous stage in form of a construction site that turns and reveals new rooms and nooks as the stage is differently lit or rotated – but very much because of Signe Fabricius fabulous street choreography that feels so much 2018 that we’re wondering if we’re not actually at a dance off in some suburb.

Photo: Malin Arnesson

And lastly – Malmö is a city known for its immigration and integration problems. There is plenty of antagonism and conflicts here – especially amongst the young people from around the world living here. West Side Story is the perfect production to put a light on this. Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim explains with every fiber this musical has; singing, dancing, music, scenography, and costume how we are all alike, all in need of love, of being seen for who we truly are underneath the surface.

We are really blown away of the level of this production that stands out completely from what we have seen done with West Side story before. The orchestra sounds like Bernstein himself stood on the pulpet. Kasper Holten and his team have made a production that in some ways is a punch in the stomach as well as it also hits both the heart and the brain. It’s a perfect context for the upcoming Swedish election where racist parties are getting the public vote.

September is almost here and it’s time to put away the sunscreen and go indoors. We can’t think of a better start than this. Go see!

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