Monday, April 26, 2010

BLISS - Opera Australia

An Opera by Brett Dean and Amanda Holder Based on the Novel by Peter Carey.
Sydney Opera House March 12 - 30 2010

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Only time, and a few more productions, will tell if "Bliss" is a great opera, but there is no doubt that Opera Australia's premiere production is an exciting one.

With significant assistance from Brian Thomson's extraordinary LED-studded setting, complete with revolving turntable, Neil Armfield has devised a brilliant production which literally swirls through Peter Carey's surreal story of Harry Joy, the Managing Director of an advertising agency, whose major mid-life crisis sees him end up in an asylum, allowing his ambitious wife Betty to take over the business with catastrophic results. It's a production which intrigues, fascinates and disturbs.

Stunningly orchestrated, Brett Dean's music is given a fastidiously detailed performance by conductor Elgar Howarth, and though it took a little while to get used to hearing Australian vernacular sung out loud, Amanda Holden's libretto is remarkably successful in capturing the essence of the Peter Carey novel.

There are confronting scenes and marvelous performances. Peter Coleman-Wright is superb as Harry Joy, a role written specially for him. He creates a flawed but believable everyman so compellingly that I felt slightly impatient when the focus of the opera moved to the plight of his wife Betty, despite an arresting portrayal by Merlyn Quaife.

Former Canberra soprano, Lorina Gore, was superb as Honey B, Harry's call-girl lover. She brings warmth and charm to a vocally dazzling role. David Corcoran and Taryn Fiebig also find unexpected depth in their roles as Harry's two wretched children.

Opera Australia deserves congratulations for the meticulous care it has lavished on bringing "Bliss" to fruition. It is indeed a welcome addition to that rarest of endangered species..Australian opera.

An edited version of this review was published in "City News" on 22nd April