Theatre Review: Opera Up Late (Sydney Opera House, Sydney) ★★★★

Opera Up Late takes opera’s biggest hits and sprinkles them with some late night fairy dust. Stars of the Sydney Opera House’s Dame Joan Sutherland theatre are dragging up, getting down and belting the high notes for an evening of delights that’s making an early claim to be the real highlight of Sydney WorldPride’s cultural calendar!

Drag comedian Reuben Kaye puts opera’s inherent campiness under the microscope as Opera Australia’s Annie Aitken, Tomas Dalton, Angela Hogan, Benjamin Rasheed, and Cathy-Di Zhango flip arias in queer directions, throwing in some Sondheim, Whitney Houston, Lady Gaga and more along the way. One thing that’s immediately apparent is that these may be professional opera stars and have the vocal chops to prove it, but deep down they’re all comedy queens, gleefully poking fun at their art form and revelling in the chance to let loose.

The night opens with a lip-sync: Tomas Dalton is in full regency drag, while Cathy-Di Zhango hits the notes from the balcony, the two of them battling for the audience’s attention. Annie Aitken proves herself a formidable musical theatre star with a rendition of Sondheim’s “Hello, Little Girl”, stalking Angela Hogan (in a stunning bejewelled corset). Benjamin Rasheed serves a look described as “an East Berlin production of Cabaret”, while even musical director and accompanist Paul Fitzsimon joins in with a fetching ensemble of shorts and a harness.

Cathy-Di Zhango, Reuben Kaye and Benjamin Rasheed in Opera Australia’s Opera Up Late, part of Sydney WorldPride 2023.

Then there’s the host, Reuben Kaye. Gorgeous and filthy, glamorous and gross, he weaves a glittering thread through the evening, telling stories of his love of opera (he’s a Tosca queen). With the support of Opera Australia’s costume department, Kaye never hits the stage in the same outfit twice, each look more ridiculous than the last. When Kaye heads off stage into the audience, things get spicy. A terrific improviser, the night is in part a riotous stand up gig with Kaye as the star, as much as a night of fabulous music.

All praise has to go to opera and theatre director Shaun Rennie—no stranger to cabaret shows himself—who has crafted an evening of sublime fun. Transitions are filled with moments of silliness, the choice of songs and their presentation (keep an eye on the surtitles for additional gags) elevate what could have been a simple night of “drag opera”. An incredible amount of work has gone into this show’s two performances. Rennie and co have taken the proverbial stick out of opera’s ass and replaced it with a vibrating dildo, leaving the full house ecstatic for more.

Opera is camp. It’s maybe the most perfect distillation of camp; the excess, the emotion, writ large on big stages with bigger voices. Blending it with Australian irreverence flips things from class to crass with delicious results. Despite what I wrote above, I don’t think opera has “a stick up its ass” – it lives its life boldly, defiantly, and proudly. Full of extravagant clothes and drama queen divas who demand their space in this world. It is here and it’s queer and Opera Up Late lets us indulge in it completely.

By Chad Armstrong

Opera Up Late has one final performance on Thursday Feb 23 at the Sydney Opera House as part of Sydney WorldPride 2023. Click here for tickets and more details.

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