Monday, February 6, 2017

'Tis Pity, a disappointing, operatically barren new work from Victorian Opera: Herald Sun Review

Published online Monday, 6th February and in print Wednesday, 8th February.

If an opera company isn’t selling opera, who can it be left to? In Victorian Opera’s new collaboration between composer and librettist Richard Mills, Meow Meow and director Cameron Menzies, an identity crisis of sorts appears to be creeping in. It’s refreshing having a local company champion new work but in its efforts to build a new audience it could very well be dividing its existing one.

The Saturday night opening of ’Tis Pity — An Operatic Fantasia on Selling the Skin and the Teeth is described by Menzies as a “Vaudevillian romp through the ages”.

Kanen Breen and Meow Meow
It’s a mashed-up series of songs of mixed musical style spread across 10 vignettes that mostly dawdle and occasionally gallop along. Picture book-like, it tells us a little about whoring through the ages, of misogyny, hypocrisy, desire and the transactional sale of beauty from Ancient Greece to the silver screen via the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, a fleeting High Renaissance and the 18th Century ‘gigolo et gigolettes’ among others.

The problem is that even if the libretto’s part-witty, part-convoluted penchant for rhyme and wordiness was more comprehensible, the advertised 75-minute work would still feel lengthy. Opening night, in fact, only just crossed the hour — sluggishly.

It was “written at breakneck speed” according to Mills in the program notes. That seemed to show and by halfway through it felt lacking a raison d’ĂȘtre. When the subject of syphilis came by way of a snappy Latin-beat song, it was time to let the frivolity be the driving force and abandon the search for meaning.

Fortunately, dolled-up Meow Meow and flamboyant Kanen Breen work superbly as a duo, both strikingly versatile and well-rehearsed. They share the stage with three time-perfect gender-fluid dancers (Alexander Bryce, Thomas Johansson and Patrick Weir) who weave in and out.

The setting is two sizeable beds adorned with protruding posts of slender stockinged legs on either side of the stage and a roll-about stair. A red velvet-curtained backdrop features two frames on which key words of the libretto are projected.

But I couldn’t help but think the songs might better have been sung without staged distractions because the marvellous sounding, crisp-playing Orchestra Victoria conducted by Mills and Meow Meow and Breen’s vocal and physical flexibility were what mattered most. Even so, it seems to belong elsewhere — in a cabaret festival or club.

At the end of it all, ‘Tis Pity feels like an indulgent work that neither does justice to the art of opera nor the rich talent at Victorian Opera’s disposal. This time the company has sold itself thin.

Production photo:  Pia Johnson

Melbourne Recital Centre until February 8

Rating: two and a half stars

1 comment:

  1. looks like one to Miss! I will go and see Caberet instead.