Saturday, March 20, 2010

BLISS thoughts

It feels a bit impertinent to be saying anything about Brett Dean's Bliss except that I went, but I do have thoughts, superficial admittedly. The 10 year project has been (extremely) well documented, and opening night very well received: main press here, and here.

The general tone seems to be it is off to a good start. "The beginning is a delicate time" (Dune) and the handling of this birth (to Brett and Amanda a healthy child, all three doing well) has been exceptional, by all concerned, with international performances already scheduled. I thought David Corcoran's interview gives some insight into the depth of commitment at every level.

So there we were on broadcast night, at D stalls, rather stalled at D stalls, blocked by men in black, bright lights, a woman in (the top) half a silvery dress, surely the elegant slightly flared black pants left at home, or splayed on the floor of the car park with one leg caught in a slammed door, who with her schoolboy faced companion oozed self-importance and, as it turns out, an embarrassment of ignorance. All in a good cause - it was going out live, on TV and into selected cinemas, and free.

Peter Carey's Bliss is a great story and is does, to my surprise I confess, mutate well, thanks surely to Amanda Holden. Actions, guilt, fear, karma - perfect. I was a bit worried about using a 'non-Australian' to capture a timeless, admittedly, story in the local vernacular, risking I feared an overdose of exaggerated Australianisms. Fears unfounded. On first pass, the only awkwardness I felt was the very opening lines -"this is a catastrophe" - which felt over structured and without the immediacy of panic of predicament. But the writing is wonderful. The full libretto is in the programme. Excellent.

Musically the less I say the better probably I am so unfamiliar with it. That said, it is easy and accesible, certainly quite 'situational' in parts, but the emotional depths need much more study from my ears. Britten here, Shostakovich there, bluesy jazzy, very dense, too dense in parts for some vocal lines perhaps, eclipsing much of Merlyn Quaife's middle voice. I loved the (Peanuts) conversational trumpet moments. Elgar Howarth seemed the perfect midwife, gentle, supportive, understanding, great attention to detail, kind, caring - in Richard Hickox place let's not forget.

The (Brian Thomson/Nigel Levings) set was brilliant. I thought it was like being inside Harry's frontal lobes. In fact I wished the opening had been differently lit, and the synaptic brilliance of what followed came only after the near death experience. The persisting static as a cortical (cosmic) sparking, whatever else was going on, thoughts, images, ideas, emotions, was inspired. If one were to be picky, the cardiograph was unusually healthy in rate and rhythm for a post-infarct pre-bypass patient whose dignity and privacy were long gone.

What so impressed about the cast (Neil Armfield directing and Kate Champion choreographing) was that they all were stars. Not a weak link, from the remarkable omnipresent Harry of Peter Coleman-Wright, seemingly to me in a hyperaware state of timeless suspension, looking back with us (frontal lobes again) from his new found earthy minimalism, through Merlyn Quaife's fantastic imploding exploding vocal demands (with some unkind orchestration), hugely successful David and Lucy, I couldn't imagine better (disclaimer - big Taryn Feibig fan here), with all the supports and chorus displaying what we have most - depth. Henry Choo's Aldo was particularly moving.

If someone asked me where there were dramatic weak spots, I would suggest the opening scene and the hotel scene. Both are moments of quantum change which didn't seem to reach some arbitrary but necessary threshold.

Which brings me to Honey B. I always felt Honey was, by name and nature, a mezzo role. And I still think that. Not that Lorina Gore, especially at her upper limits, didn't dazzle us, as well as Harry. But if ever there was a need for a contrast, for a voice to take you to the heart not the head, to the earth not the bank, for me it was here. That is my only real reservation.

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