Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A Visit to Verdi's Otello

Last night I went to Opera Queensland's production of Otello, directed by Simon Phillips and conducted by Queensland Symphony Orchestra Chief Conductor Johannes Fritzsch. It's an opera I've been fond of for many years, so it gave me great pleasure to freshly admire Verdi's great achievement.

There are around 300 operas made from Shakespeare's plays. Only three are of the first rank: Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and two of Verdi's - Otello and Falstaff. Verdi, who celebrates his 200th anniversary this year, adored Shakespeare, even though he could not read English. He devoured new translations. Famously, he sat with King Lear beside his bed for years, but could not find an operatic solution. I suspect that the failure of almost all Shakespearean opera often has to do with an unwillingness to dispense with the poetry. The plays are already brilliantly full and require no further music - a reason why non-poetic texts often make the best operatic source material. In Arrigo Boito, Verdi had a fine librettist who knew how to strip, distill and rearrange a text in a way that allowed Verdi's music to flourish. With Otello, they made an opera that is better than the play. 

Sunday, 13 October 2013

STC's Romeo and Juliet - some observations

Eryn Jean Norvill as Juliet and Julie Forsyth as the Nurse. 
I saw Kip Williams' Sydney Theatre Company production of Romeo and Juliet on Friday night. The play, one of Shakespeare's early experiments with tragedy, is a good test of a director. It's a flawed work, relying too much on plot and too little on the substance of its titular characters. Juliet can shine, but Romeo rarely does. Often, we spend most of the second half of the play longing to get to the crypt and be done. There can be a lot of shouting. Too often, we grin at the vagaries of Verona's postal service rather than lament lives lost young. The play requires an inventive director.

Kip's production has a lot of good ideas and makes the play work better than it often does. 

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Nick Enright's Blackrock: when the good do nothing

It's probably true that one's early endeavours are more fondly remembered. Memory smoothes the edges of rough biography.

One of my very first major productions was the first production of Nick Enright's Blackrock. Nick and I were friends - both born in Maitland (along with John Bell and Ruth Cracknell, weirdly) - and we spent some time developing this play at Sydney Theatre Company. Cate Blanchett acted Rachel in the early workshops, and the first cast included a fresh Joel Edgerton, Angela Punch McGregor, Simon Lyndon, Kym Wilson, Rebecca Smart, Paul Bishop, Dan Wyllie, Teo Gebert, Kristina Bidenko, John Walton and Julie Godfrey. It's a piece of which we were all very proud.

Yesterday, a new project was launched called Reading Australia, initiated by the Copyright Agency. It aims to promote and expand knowledge of essential pieces of Australian writing. In July, the Australian Society of Authors’ (ASA) Council selected an initial 200 Australian books, both fiction and non-fiction. The list will grow. The idea is that writers, academics, teachers and libraries collaborate to provide material around these works - essays, readings, visual and audio material, teaching resources - allowing users of the list (mostly teachers and students, I guess) to read, interpret, historicise and connect more deeply with this interesting collection of Australian literature. Click here to hear a podcast of an ABC interview with Angelo Loukakis (ASA Executive Director) and Zoe Rodriguez (CA Cultural Fund Manager) discussing the project. 

Yesterday, material on 20 titles was released. The only play so far is Blackrock, and I was honoured to contribute an essay on my experience of the work. It's geared towards an education audience, but I hope has appeal beyond.

Here are my thoughts: