Review: Contemporary Opera Takes On Popular Television And Cultural Tropes with Blush Opera's CHOP CHEF.


By: Apr. 25, 2021
Review: Contemporary Opera Takes On Popular Television And Cultural Tropes with Blush Opera's CHOP CHEF.

Friday 23rd April 2020, 8pm, Lennox Theatre, Riverside Parramatta

Directors Kenneth Moraleda and Nicole Pignon bring Julie Koh (Librettist) and Paul Smith's (Composer) new Australian satirical comic chamber opera CHOP CHEF to the stage. Blending popular culture, from reality shows to cooking competitions and dystopian battles to the death with contemporary social issues from sexism and misogyny to stereotyping and of-the-minute-maladies, this is a different and unusual presentation of the ideas for a 21st century audience.

Julie Koh and Paul Smith have created a work that centers on an reality television show that kicks the cooking competition show genre up to an extreme sport where the only way out of the studio kitchen is apparently via a very final elimination. Just as the real shows draw contestants from different backgrounds with varying skill levels, CHOP CHEF engages 6 aspiring chefs, including their returning previous winner. Kitty (Jermaine Chau) is clearly the focus of the work with the most developed backstory, even if it reaches way beyond absurd (she wants to create a Hello Kitty Dim Sum Milkshake bar and dedicates her time in the competition to a support Labradoodle) and serves to present a stereotype of a cutesy cartoon obsessed young Asian woman. Returning winner Victoria (Ayako Ohtake) embodies the trope of the ambitious, anxious, and highly competitive Asian woman who is manipulating the image the audience sees. Renée (Lisa Cooper) rounds out the contingent of female competitors with an expression of a housewife that favors old world cooking styles and fashions, from Souffles and full skirts. Andy (Gavin Brown) is an anime obsessed gamer nerd who loves all things Japanese, even if he cannot really tell the difference between Japanese cultural icons and things from other parts of Asia. Beach bum Kale (Nick Geddes) is seeking to gain publicity for his vegan smoothie empire while Tom (Benjamin Caulkwell) is a tattooed lumberjack turned barber hipster who holds an outdated view of women. They are being judged by a trio of snotty judges, Austin, Benoit, and Cosimo, who all look remarkably alike (David Hidden) and are only ever seen via 'video link'.

The staging is simple with an ark of white barred walls trapping the contestants with the judges receiving the contestants' creations via a pair of white hinged hatches. Kitchen work benches are represented by wheeled workbenches that hold a series of boxes, reinforcing the aesthetic that refuses to incorporate anything that looks remotely edible from either under the benches or from the 'pantry' shelves. Costuming reinforces the stereotypes and reinforces that the underlying characters are somewhat two dimensional images created for the television viewers.

While the opening introductions essentially give away the ultimate winner removing the potential for any great mystery in the plot line, CHOP CHEF retains the traditional opera format of dramatic arias and a high body count with prolonged acceptance of eventual demise. Turning the work into a commentary on social issues from racism, misogyny, fetishizing women based on ethnicity and cultural appropriation adds depth to the work and directors Moraleda and Pignon ensure that the issues are made clear through the characterizations, presenting some of the more honest elements of the absurd work. The musicality of the work, utilizing a quartet of flute (Melissa Coleman), clarinet (Alisha Coward), cello (Liam Meany) and piano (Claire Race) under Luke Spicer's baton, expresses the shifting tone of the work from frivolous and light to dark and twisted as the truth behind the competition rules comes to light. The lyrics tap into the absurdity of the characters and the entertainment genres they are sending up with many obvious and expected references while targeting the 'cheap laughs' rather than presenting any particularly astute observations, talking to a similar level as the target audience for reality television show. Once the premise that each character will eventually be removed there is a reduction in the surprise with a fairly weak plot twist from the 'video linked' judges which leaves the currently two act work feel a little labored and would potentially benefit from tightening and putting into a single act to ensure the momentum isn't lost.

CHOP CHEF is an interesting work for those that enjoy cooking competition shows and see the absurdity of the reality television structure where what is seen is manipulated by both the studios and directors and the competitors themselves. With some strong voices, particularly from Jermaine Chau, Ayako Ohtake and Benjamin Caulkwell and fabulous physicality from Gavin Brown this is also a chance to see some rising young Australian Opera singers.

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From This Author - Jade Kops

Jade is an Aviation Safety Training Instructor with a love of Theatre, Cabaret, Musical Theatre, and music and is a committed advocate for the live performing arts industry in Sydney and Australia. Si... Jade Kops">(read more about this author)


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