Last night to Opera Australia’s production of this work by Szymanowski. It’s an obscurity: the recording that I was able to borrow from the Con library was made in Warsaw in 1965 – I suspect in association with a concert performance rather than a staged performance.
The opera is set in Sicily at the time of the Norman King Roger. The libretto contains very detailed stage directions for first a Byzantine church, secondly the King’s palace and thirdly an ancient Greek amphitheatre by the sea: it is clear that Szymanowski was inspired by specific locales experienced by him when chasing the sun and (presumably) a Sicilian lad or two. This production ditches all that and instead makes plain that the action is pretty much all inside the protagonist’s head: a massive head (front exterior view, then rear internal view) and, for the third act, a stylised “amphitheatre” which seems more like the Coliseum turned inside out than any Greek model.
That means that the music carries the exoticist burden. It’s meant to be in three different flavours – almost one for each act, but once the orchestra started playing (everything starts in the dark with some gong strokes and a quasi-Orthodox church choir) I can’t say that the differences struck me so much as a tremendous kind of dream world. It was rich stuff. The text books talk about Scriabin and Stravinsky but mostly I felt reminiscences of Pelleas & M. Orchestration is luscious and complicated – I spotted the double basses having a little confab at the end which suggests there are still some details to iron out.
Michael Honeyman was particularly impressive in the title role.
Bachtrack and Limelight carry the most comprehensive reviews (freedom from print means freedom from word limits) so I will leave the rest of the critical work to them. Good luck finding those $23 tickets Clive Paget talks of in the latter.
House was maybe 75%, with some conspicuous gaps in the expensive areas. Nevertheless, the sense of engrossment was palpable and applause at the end was enthusiastic.
I sat in a cheap seat on the side and will do so again before finishing off in the front row. Perhaps by then I will be able to distinguish more between the parts and make more sense of the whole.
It’s something of a coup for OA to mount this production, though that statement must be qualified by the fact that the production has been bought in from Covent Garden, as was the double bill of Cav/Pag which I saw the night before.
At interval, sharing a table with someone who introduced herself as having sat behind me for the last few years at the SSO “Emirates” series, I learnt that about a third of the OA staff were made redundant towards the end of last year – she had a niece who was affected. I guess there’s lots of people you don’t need when you are hardly putting on any operas (eg, in a year when the Opera Theatre went dark, it turns out that about half the time that OA had the Capitol Theatre is being turned over to a final run of My Fair Lady) and most of what you are putting on is either a revival or a “co-production.” Neither of us was enthused by the recent news that Lyndon Terracini’s contract has just been extended for another 3 years.