Victorian Opera caps off another eclectic year with this well matched pair of chamber operas. The chaos and disarray which conclude Manuel de Falla’s Master Peter’s Puppet Show create a canvas of destruction for the tragedy that sets off Elliot Carter and Paul Griffiths’ What Next?.
These Australian premieres, supported by excellent program notes, are quite accessible and unique, and are certainly a far cry from the chocolate box favourites often presented by other companies with box office in mind.
Conductor Daniel Carter makes an auspicious mainstage debut, leading the redoubtable Orchestra Victoria in a confident, unflustered manner. Carter’s management of the orchestra, six singers and four percussionists on stage in What Next? is quite extraordinary.
Nancy Black shows a masterful hand with the direction, creating multiple levels of action on Adam Gardnir’s impressively large set of black scaffolding. Clearly placing a strong emphasis on acting, Black has drawn excellent performances from the singers, producing an interesting set of characters.
The shadow puppets, designed by Lynne Kent and made by Rachel Joy, are a joy to watch. Black has ensured that the scope and intricacy of puppetry increase constantly throughout Master Peter’s Puppet Show, with welcome moments of gentle humour along the way.
In the role of the interfering narrator, fast rising young soprano Lotte Betts-Dean makes light work of some extremely challenging rapid singing. Often singing unaccompanied, Betts-Dean’s nimble vocal dexterity is complemented by lovely bell-like notes that ring out at the end of phrases, giving a hint at the true beauty of her voice.
Carlos Bárcenas displays energy and focus as the harried puppeteer Master Peter, with Ian Cousins providing support with elegant flair.
What Next? proves a more challenging piece to watch, with the chaos of the aftermath of an accident represented in the unresolved dissonance of the music. The wordplay of Griffiths’ libretto is entertaining, and overall the piece is certainly one to admire.
Jessica Aszodi stands out in a well-matched ensemble cast, catching attention as increasingly frantic bride not-to-be Rose. Austin Haynes impressed on opening night in a natural performance as The Kid.
More information at Victorian Opera.
Photos: Jeff Busby
This review written for the 19 August 2012 Sunday Herald Sun