Opera Review: Voss • Glam Adelaide
Presented by South Australian State Opera and Victorian Opera
Reviewed May 7, 2022
In 1977, Peter Hemmings, then managing director of Opera Australia, commissioned Richard Meale to write an opera based on Patrick White’s epic novel. Voss. David Malouf took up the challenge of creating the booklet for this magnificent book created by the genius of Patrick White, based on the life of explorer Ludwig Leichardt, famously disappeared during an expedition in the Australian outback.
It took nearly ten years, from 1977 to 1986, to bring this magnificent Australian opera from page to stage. It hasn’t been seen in Australia since 1990 and it took over 30 years for it to return to the stage. It was due to be seen in Adelaide last year after a performance in Melbourne, but our new Covid mate made us wait even longer to see it. Was it worth the wait? Without a shadow of a doubt, it was!
It is a large-scale opera. It looks like Richard Meale has channeled Puccini and Wagner and collaborated with Britten to create something that assaults and enlivens our senses. It is a story that engages our imagination. It’s a love story, a saga of love and determination to overcome all the obstacles that stand between love and salvation; it’s a misunderstanding of the power of the aboriginal guardians of the land we live in, experienced through the glorious music of Meale and an epic poem by Malouf based on White’s mammoth book about exploring a land that calls to you , but gives you no understanding of the power it generates and the consequences of having a spiritual and intuitive connection with another soul on a level that has no explanation. It is a musical experience of sensations and ideas that envelops you and takes you on a journey to another place of your spiritual connection to music.
And that’s exactly what I got out of it!
It was an evening of outstanding performances. Samuel Dundas’ Voss was rich and enigmatic, a performance guided by an inner connection that forced us to follow a journey driven by an unquenchable connection to a path of discovery that had provided a fatal outcome. His voice was a rich and sure vehicle on which to base his storytelling. Laura, played with exquisite joy and pain, by Emma Pearson, was a study in the connection of two minds who have no choice in the intertwining of their hearts and minds. His vocal intensity was sincere and in tune with the psychic and physical demands of the character. A performance full of nuances and vitality of spirit carried by an enchanting voice. Pelham Andrews’ masterful portrayals of wealthy benefactor Mr Bonner and raw ex-convict Judd were excellent. Her vocal clarity and masterful acting ability made both of her characters shine and was expertly matched by the talent and rich voice of Cherie Boogaart as Mrs. Bonner and Mrs. Judd. The opening night stage hosted by the Bonners was staged so well that the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra sitting behind the performance area just faded into the background.
Performances by Nicholas Jones (Harry Robarts), Michael Petruccelli (Frank Le Mesurier) and Joshua Rowe (Palfreyman) were strong and powerful both vocally and theatrically, adding a dimension to the story that brought passion and trepidation in equal measure. to storytelling. Trevor Jamison (Dugald) and Elijah Valadian (Jacky) buttressed the First Nations connection to the vast brown land we live in and their mystical and powerful presence reminded us that the power of these guardians of our land has often been underestimated. valued. Voss’ group of brave followers brought a truly exceptional energy to the storytelling.
Jessica Dean was a suitably neurotic Belle Bonner with a glorious vocal quality let down by some articulation. It was sometimes very difficult to discern the words from the tone. Mark Oates (Lt Tom Radcliffe) displayed his ever-reliable voice paired with some very whimsical dance moves to bring his character to life with care and focus. Jiacheng Ding (Mr. Topp) was a welcome slight relief, and Jeremy Tatchell (a reporter) and Rachel McCall (Rose Portion/Mercy) did a very commendable job in their small but vital roles.
Stuart Maunder’s exquisitely simple staging against a backdrop of iconic slides of paintings by Fred Williams and a full Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, has been enhanced by Roger Kirk’s simple yet elegant design. The principals’ costumes were authentic 1840s and the choice to dress the chorus in plain black added dimension and at times darkness which added to the power of the story’s delivery.
Richard Mills’ promise to Meale to return it to the stage, and Mills’ collaboration with Stuart Maunder, who conducted this opera-inspired musical landscape, gave us the chance to relive this unique Australian opera. Mills’ interpretation of Meale’s score and his subtle, intuitive direction of the singers and ASO was an act of pure love for the viewer.
Basically, it’s a love story. But not just about two people, but also about a love of land and spirit that is present through the indigenous connection to that spirit and its place in the hearts of the Australian people. We have received many gifts from the oldest living culture still alive on the planet, with whom we share this vast continent. And these 20th century values lie beneath the story and give depth to the spiritual bond between Voss and Laura.
This epic opera, had it been produced under normal circumstances, would have been staged at great expense with sets and costumes suited to the great scope of the narrative. The opera that was offered to us at the Théâtre du Festival greatly benefited from its need to simply be staged. With just the bare bones of the production, we were allowed to enjoy this glorious work without a hitch. What a brave and smart choice.
Please don’t make us wait 30 years to see it again.
Reviewed by Adrian Barnes
One Night Only – Season Over
Stars out of 5: 5