Opera for the ages – with a twist

Opera for the ages – with a twist

February 3, 2019


Orpheus at Midsumma.Credit:Kate J Baker

Forest Collective & Prismatx Ensemble, Abbotsford Convent, until February 3

New Australian operas are few and far between. They’re expensive to mount and hard to sell seats to. Regulars complain about the umpteenth time La Boheme comes around, yet most aren’t interested in the great unknown. But without a work like Evan Lawson’s Orpheus, opera audiences would do nothing but sit in plush theatres and watch reruns of the past 300 years. It’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly important.

The tale of Orpheus in the Underworld has been told many times over those centuries, but part of the story has gone unexplored. It’s said that after his beloved Eurydice dies for the second time, Orpheus took solace in the love and companionship of a young man, Calais. This production explores that relationship, through vocals and contemporary dance.

The score is not one of traditional harmonies and musical structures. You won’t leave humming the tunes. The tension created through dissonance and unusual sounds crafts a sense of impending doom that lingers throughout the hour-long performance. It’s a workout for your ears.

Lawson’s innovative musical imaginations of Odysseus’s ship at sea and the Underworld are striking, though Eurydice’s first death (an extended a cappella solo) loses its initial potency by becoming too drawn out.

As Eurydice, Kate Bright’s vocals are outstanding and at times, powerfully unsettling. This music is hard to sing and both she and Raymond Khong as Orpheus, do a mighty job. Bright’s dance counterpart Piaera Lauritz is particularly captivating.

This Orpheus is not like the Gluck or Monteverdi or Offenbach versions of old, but it doesn’t want to be.

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