WA Opera’s Our Little Inventor Channels Imagination at Shift
In a world of face masks and atmospheric conflict, Emma Jayakumar’s set from Sher Rill Ng’s Our Little Inventor had to be cut for WA Opera at His Majesty’s Theatre.
Our inventor, Nell (Mystery Road: Origin’s Grace Chow), opens the show working on her anti-pollution machine to the clockwork beats of WA Youth Orchestra under the direction of Kate McNamara.
Around her, the West Australian Young Voices sing a bright, breezy “good morning”, but Nell, “big brain but small in stature”, is asleep after a sleepless night.
Mom (Yann Kee) and her brother Didi (Jordan Scott) cut a picturesque three-generation domestic scene with Mama (Xiaojia Zhang), as they discuss Nell’s trip to town when she bursts into screaming “It’s fact”, his R2D2 look-alike engineer a charming but unlikely world savior.
There’s a disconnect in vocal quality between established opera singers and youngsters, but the children in the audience probably didn’t notice, with director Matt Ward injecting lots of color and movement, with simple but effective and directed by Matt McVeigh and lighting by Kristie Smith, including a beautiful cherry blossom backdrop for the village scenes.
Nell’s solo, “There and Back in a Day,” accompanied by a chorus with night lights, strikes chords with its theme of young hope and adventure, with mom pumping up the theme to send her daughter on her way.
Arriving in the great smoke (literally), with its towering buildings, dense smog, and mechanically masked citizens, Nell faces a dystopian view of life, with more clockwork of the orchestra punctuating the bustle of the chorus. .
Chet (Liam Fitzpatrick), Declan (Harris Goh), and Hani (Harriett Dawson) introduce Nell to Aunt Myra’s (Hao Chen-Zhang) sick son, who is breathing again after tasting the invention, and Nell gets her first chance. to strut around.
“My Name Is Nell,” Chow’s aria, is brazenly precocious until the smog lifts and Zhang as Aunt Myra leads another chorus of approval.
In the Council Chamber, Mrs. Livingston Li (WA operatic soprano Rachelle Durkin) is in tune for “Forty-Two Cups of White China” – taking stock and bailing Mickey out of bureaucratic drudgery at the same time.
The advisers (Joshua White, Thomas Lovegrove, Caleb Rochester and Rigby Barnes) dismissively put her back in her box, their interaction rhyming “witness” and “ridiculous” to comedic effect.
Her first name turns out to be Lilith – feminism’s mythical alternative Eve – and when Aunt Myra introduces Nell, a natural alliance is born; both wear Suffragette purple and agree, “I think all of our voices should be heard.”
So far so good, until the mayor (baritone Brett Peart) asks “All those in favor say yes” – and all do, as the pantomime bombshell meets the polish of the opera in a beautiful display of wickedness.
Lilith insists that Nell be heard and the music mimics the dialogue as the mayor’s shrill “aye, aye, aye” drowns out Nell’s clockwork pattern.
Lilith and Myra recoil in horror at the mayor’s intimidating obfuscation, then react with outrage and a fine defense of youthful enthusiasm, earning enthusiastic cheers from all the youngsters in the house.
But Nell is back home, lamenting the fate, and the consolation of mum and mum is joined in a haunting trio by Lilith, then Nell and Didi, before the mechanical theme announces a summons delivered by the children of the city.
Now the whole village is combining to help Nell, taking their opening theme to send her back with a bigger and better machine.
Dark chords and bells greet its return, but the Mark II R2D2 is now an industrial strength in dealing with the smog, and people are getting on board. As the forces of progress clash with the mayor’s stone wall tactics, light and dark compete in voice, orchestra, movement and light until Nell breaks through.
Twinkling strings build up to the reveal of a mega machine with multiple glass domes and pipes, green stuff and lights; clockwork rhythms kick in, the air clears and the world breathes freely: “She’s a wonder!”
As the curtain rolls, cheers for the heroes, boos for the mayor, and applause for the writers, cast, and crew.
And the Shift’s fireplace has never smelled so much like popcorn.
Our Little Inventor is again at His Majesty’s Theater on Sunday, October 2 at 3 p.m.