mezzo-soprano Xenia Puskarz Thomas (as the widowed Gladys Callaway) and the soprano Sheridan Hughes (her daughter Veronica) were impressive, as was Phillip Costovski as Henry (one of the young men with an unexpressed love for her), his tenor clean and true. Oliver Boyd dutifully sustained the central role of Reverend Callaway but needed more variety and nuance to make his opportunistic character really interesting.
When Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes was given its premiere in London in 1945 it must have been extraordinary for audiences to be confronted by a chorus representing the inhabitants of a ‘respectable’ English village behaving with such mass malice against Grimes, a character as isolated as Britain itself had so recently been. This violent hatred was expressed with terrifying ferocity in the ‘semi-staged’ performance at the Brisbane Festival on September 20 in the concert hall of the queensland performing arts centre. Jillianne Stoll had trained and encouraged her chorus to sing with blistering power.
That alone would have made this performance (the first of two) indelibly memorable but the orchestra, under the dynamic young Scot Rory Macdonald, seemed determined not to be left behind, playing (after a few so-so opening bars) with whiplash precision and wonderful colour. The result was a musical experience that was as exhilarating as it was profound.
The distressing aspect of the evening was the indisposition of Stuart Skelton in the title role. He was unable to carry on singing after the interval but acted the role while the British tenor Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, who had been performing as the Rev. Horace Adams, sang at the side of the stage. Despite a few atypically out-of-control upper notes, Skelton had been convincingly showing a capacity audience that a Heldentenor is ideal in this role. Lloyd-Roberts has a lighter timbre so, in a sense, it was fascinating to hear two different interpretations in the same evening.
Sally Matthews was proficient as Ellen Orford but lacked dramatic conviction in her singing. In the descending major-key line of her aria ‘Let her among you without fault’ she could not compete with the contrary motion of the orchestra. Other roles were very capably sung, notably by Mark Stone as Balstrode and Andrew Collis as Swallow.
Sydney Brian Howard’s chamber opera Metamorphosis inaugurated opera australia’s new pop-up theatre, located within the company’s opera centre, with distinction and no small nod to the opera’s theme of transformation. OA has turned its scenery workshop into a temporary 300-seat theatre that it plans to use annually for productions of smaller scale than the mainstage fare at its Sydney Opera House home. Metamorphosis, with a libretto by Steven Berkoff based on Kafka’s novella, looked and sounded wonderful.
The opera benefited greatly from being played to an audience sitting only a few metres away, and there was another bonus: OA’s artistic director Lyndon Terracini, speaking before the first performance (September 26), noted that the stage was higher and wider than that in the Joan Sutherland Theatre. (Terracini, incidentally, sang the central role of Gregor Samsa at the premiere of Metamorphosis in 1983.) Mark Thompson’s stage design took full advantage of the space. A multi-level skeletal metal structure had both the forbidding aura of a maximum-security prison and the insubstantiality of a dream, eloquently supported by John Rayment’s lighting.
Opera, December 2018