Review / Brilliant voyage to the ‘Moon’

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Victorian Opera 2016 - Voyage to the Moon (High Res) © Jeff Busby (9)A devastating elopement, a loss of sanity, friendships lost and regained, a magical trip in chariots to the moon where things lost are stored, restoration of sanity from a box, a sword fight in which the swords didn’t clash and the final discovery that “the love of friendship and loyalty triumphs over all”; such was the story line of “Voyage to the Moon”, a brand new opera compiled by Michael Gow.

And “compiled” is the operative word, for this work carries libretto from a section of the epic (more than 38,000 lines) 16th century poem, “Orlando furioso” by Ludovico Ariosto, with music drawn from no less than eight composers from the baroque period.

As such it is a brand new contribution to Pasticcio Opera, a genre that grew out of the popularity of opera in the late 17th century, in which new libretti and music were not written, rather the operas were more-or-less “compilations” of existing material.

So, does it work? A resounding “yes” is the answer. The music is very carefully and thoughtfully chosen to be able to generate the emotions in the story, but also provide a natural flow throughout the work. The result was as though the music was original to the opera.

A chamber ensemble, led from the harpsichord by Phoebe Briggs, included two violins, a viola, cello and double bass and an oboe, played superbly by Emma Black. The ensemble brilliantly created the many emotions of the story in the 75-minute production.

Just three singers gave the vocal performances. Soprano Emma Matthews, mezzo Sally-Anne Russell and baritone Jeremy Kleeman held the sizeable audience spellbound through all of the emotions, along with some very funny moments, such as when two music stands became chariots for the trip to the moon. Once they got there, even Michael Jackson’s famous moonwalk got a very creditable workout from Kleeman.

All three singers were, quite simply, stunning. Their vocal ranges and gymnastics, delivery of emotions, stylistic singing and ability to immerse themselves into their roles (Matthews had two) brought the story to life in a thoroughly entertaining way.

If I wanted to have one tiny grizzle, it would be that I thought the overall sound produced by ensemble and singers perhaps a little sweeter and more luscious than I might have expected from music of the baroque period.

Stage manager, Luke Hales, made brilliant use of the vast space that is the Llewellyn Hall stage such that the performers were not running from one end to the other and yet enjoyed plenty of personal space.

Set and costume designer, Christina Smith, made smart use of existing equipment such as music stands, violin cases and instrument transport boxes for the simple but effective and innovative sets and props. And the costumes were beautiful and lavish; they embellished but did not distract from the music or the story.

“Voyage to the Moon” was brilliant in every sense. The world would be deserving of a tour of this work by this very fine and accomplished ensemble of Australian musicians and artisans.

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