Tonight, is opening night at Opera Australia. Opening nights are always special. This opening night has a few reasons for added excitement. It is the Sydney premiere of Richard Mills’ ‘The Love of the Nightingale’; soprano Emma Matthews will reprise the role of Philomele, which won her the 2007 Helpmann Award for Best Female Performer in an Opera; and the opera, which was first performed at the Perth festival in 2006, has been given a clever new vision by Director Tama Matheson.
But there are numerous other reasons to be excited about this presentation.
It is an opera of breathtaking beauty – beauty in what is heard as well as in what is seen; it also contains breathtaking brutality – in the story, in its enactment – even the music, especially when Matthews distorts her gorgeous coloratura into a grotesque scream to spit venom at the hated Tereus.
The casting is perfection. Matthews and Anke Hoppner as the sisters Philomele and Procne are tremendous companions both vocally and in character as the sisters sharing an innocence as they are poised on the brink of events that will shatter that idyll. Richard Anderson is impressive as the burly Tereus, pleasant enough at the beginning but exuding an underlying menace that reveals its full horror as the tale unravels. Talking of unravelling, Taryn Fiebig may as well be mighty Aphrodite herself, a Grecian goddess in looks and sound, flying through the heavens with clever manipulation of costumery. The rest of this small ensemble are all stars in their own right.
There is more anticipation in knowing that the composer of this opera is Richard Mills, and that he himself will conduct the performances. This is Mills’ third opera and his grasp of the genre along with his talent to mould its elements into something that audiences can understand and enjoy is probably best expressed by John Allison in Opera UK Magazine “Mills is that rare thing, a real opera composer whose music adds something to words and drama and who understands opera from the inside out.”(May 2007).
The score takes us into so many different worlds – songbirds, sea journeys, blokey sailors, screams of horror, childhood games…and all without a hint of cliché. The orchestration is something that the musicians have been excited about with piano, synthesiser and chamber organ added to the mix of wind, brass, strings and one percussion player.
Director Tama Matheson created this new Sydney production using the set of nesting platforms from the first production. He has added minimal props and evocative background projections to re-create variety of scenes creating a simple yet dramatic visual context for the narrative.
Tama Matheson talked to SoundsLikeSydney about the intricacies of the final rehearsal – watch for our post on his explanation of what goes on. In the meantime – ‘The Love of the Nightingale” is presented by Opera Australia at the Sydney Opera House from tonight 21st October, until the 1st November for just 4 performances.
Read Richard Mills’ interview for OA:http://www.opera-australia.org.au/discover/features/Richard_Mills_Interview