An additional part of the problem was the moral smugness of these women and their texts. While they appeared to recognize the evil that they were doing in luring mariners to their deaths, their attitude seemed to be that the men were ‘asking for it’ and always had the option not to embark on their voyage (a self-evidently spurious proposition). For all that the deplorable plight of women (in opera and in society generally) is always topical, I remain puzzled why Australian creators and performers chose to turn to a German legend rather than something closer to home.
It may be argued, in contradiction of my scepticism, that no male can properly understand the long history of female abuse and exploitation. I concede a part of that viewpoint, yet it seems to suggest that a crucial portion of such a piece must remain, forever, a closed book to me. Potentially, though, men comprised half of the target audience (in Brisbane, they were only a small minority), and therein lies the paradox of art as zealotry.
Did the music come to the rescue? Regrettably not. The 12-member ensemble (all principals from the Queensland Symphony Orchestra) played crisply under the direction of Phoebe Briggs. Nonetheless, on first hearing, neither the vocal nor instrumental aspects of the score seemed especially interesting: that score appeared principally to be the responsibility of Julian Langdon, who was credited with the orchestration, and jointly credited for the music with Casey Bennetto and Gillian Cosgriff, the librettists. The artistic integrity Victorian Opera and Opera Queensland have shown in sponsoring a new work is admirable, but this particular venture faltered. john carmody
AUSTRIA Vienna The internet is an affliction masquerading as a blessing: whoever wrote this on a wall in Vienna’s first district could have been reading the mind of the director Simon Stone, as it was a perfect match for his interpretation of La traviata. Stone presented Violetta Valéry as an ‘It-girl’ or ‘influencer’, a celebrity of today as defined by social media, parading her private feelings in a public forum. His production, originally staged in Paris in 2019 and now adapted for the staatsoper (with the first night transmitted live on television on March 7), was a remake of the familiar love story for the digital age. Stone even tried to underline its topicality in advance of the first night, giving an interview in which he specifically mentioned Meghan Markle and Prince Harry: the inference was that a liaison between a member of the old elite and a social climber has inbuilt risks—especially when racial differences are involved, brought to light not just by the recent Meghan and Harry interview, but also in the choice here of a black soprano, Pretty Yende.
At the end of the show Violetta succumbed to her sickness—in this case cancer— before disappearing into the kind of magic light people who have had near-death experiences often talk about. Bob Cousins’s mixed-media set design, bright and spectacular, used video clips excessively. It also borrowed from contemporary art (such as Bruce Nauman’s famous 1985 neon sculpture Seven Figures, which celebrates all sorts of copulation), with all the attendant banality. But that’s how things are in this world, we were led to believe, so it fitted the way Stone wanted to tell it. What didn’t
Opera, May 2021