15th April 2016: A typical Friday night in Perth, Western Australia.
I quite often hear people criticizing how Perth never has anything going on. After a successful Fringe season this year, I have to say I think they’re not trying hard enough to get involved in Perth events. But tonight, it didn’t take much to get involved with Perth’s night life: It was a buzzing!
The rockers were welcomed at Perth Arena, impatiently awaiting the FINAL CONCERT of acclaimed rock group Black Sabbath, as they continue their “THE END” world tour. The footy fans could be found in Subiaco barracking The Eagles (I hope!) in their win against Richmond. Whilst I love my footy (Go Eagles!), I feel tonight’s greatest win was not on the football field, but at His Majesty’s Theatre. At the opera. (Gasp!) For once we weren’t witness to a show by Mozart, Verdi, Puccini or Bizet. We weren’t listening to music in Italian, French or German. Tonight’s opera was composed by Perth boy Iain Grandage, based on a novel by Perth boy, Tim Winton, with a story featuring Perth sunsets and Fremantle’s Bathers Beach, sung in English with an Australian accent by an all Australian cast. Success! Bliss! As big a fan I am of the greats, tonight’s performance was extremely rewarding for an Australian audience and I only wish it was done more.
The Riders takes the audience on a ninety-minute journey across the world, following Scully and his daughter Billie in their search for Jennifer, Billie’s mother and Scully’s wife. Constantly throughout the plot I find myself unsure on whom to feel more sorry for: Scully, Jennifer or Billie. I guess that’s the brilliance of the opera… Librettist Alison Croggon has found a way to make each character relatable to audience members, each perspective tugging at our heartstrings as we watch them struggle with the ride in front of them.
With a simple set made up of sawhorses, featuring an effective use of candles and the occasional prop, all focus was on Grandage’s music tonight and the singing of the cast. Just like the set, the cast is minimalist with only 6 members. James Clayton was brilliant as Scully, singing my favourite line of the night, “They’re just wankers, what do they know?”, and Emma Pearson’s beautiful clear soprano voice was perfect as Jennifer. But many agreed around me that the show was stolen by young Billie, Rosanna Radici, as she struggles with her difficult parents and has to face events beyond her maturity level, keeping solace in her reading of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Radici’s light voice was a perfect contrast to Clayton’s dominating character. The trio of Wade Kernet, Fiona Campbell and Matthew Lester were brilliant, as they swapped between characters and provided incredible choral harmonies to the drama, as well as working as stage hands as they moved and manipulated the set for each scene.
(Perth Symphony orchestra performing Grandage’s All that Glisters)
And the music? Many people don’t know what to expect when they hear music by an Australian composer, but this music immediately took me to my days of playing trombone in the back of a symphony orchestra, playing Grandage’s All That Glisters. Featuring chimes, piano, and effective crescendos and diminuendos in the lower brass immediately stood out to me, this orchestral piece was always a beautiful and alluring piece for audiences to introduce themselves to modern Australian music, and this is exactly the same. Grandage has provided us with 90 minutes of rich orchestral harmonies (played beautifully as always by WASO), moments of Glass minimalism and then beautiful melodies for our soloists.
Not only were audience members treated to a fantastic piece of theatre, but a particular bonus for me tonight – the opera was cheap!! WA Opera offered $20 tickets for anyone under 25 Friday night, making this Aussie experience extremely affordable…
Tickets to Black Sabbath at the Perth Arena = $150
Tickets to the footy for a 21 year old student = $24
Tickets to The Riders at WA Opera for a 21 year old = $20
If only more people knew! It’s cheaper to go to the opera than it is to go to AFL. As I looked around me tonight I found myself surrounded, not by old women, but by young audience members. It was extremely refreshing and I hope that WA Opera will continue to do a similar deal throughout their season, as I’m sure the word will get around and this would give young adults the chance to explore opera for themselves.
As the opera came to an end, I took my chance to speak to members of the audience around me, which included a lot of young opera students (like myself). Here’s what they had to say about the show:
“It was really cool to see a show that wasn’t your regular Italian, comedic opera. It was so cool to see something Australian!”
“The music was really beautiful. But I was not expecting the swearing… I kind of liked it!”
“I wasn’t sure what to expect… and I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like it… But I’m just blown away!”
“The singing was so satisfying – Knowing that these were all Australian opera singers. Fiona Campbell is just brilliant and Emma Pearson was stunning… and I just love James Clayton everytime I hear him sing…”
Speaking of James Clayton, I was lucky enough to run into him after the show finished. Stealing a few seconds of his time before he cycled off into the dark of Perth city, I asked him what it felt like to perform in an all Aussie work:
“It’s great. It’s an honour. Especially being a Perth singer and portraying a Perth character. It was a little strange singing about local places at first, but it becomes second nature. It was difficult to get the accent right though… At first I tried singing with an Australian accent but that didn’t work. So I ended up doing the best illusionist act I could do; tailing off with hard consonants but in the middle is the Italian vowels.”
I know a lot of us walked away from last night’s performance feeling proud as punch to be Australian… and it only makes me wonder why we don’t have more of these brilliant works filling our theatres? I think this is the kind of opera that a lot of Australians can get their teeth into and as a young student, it only makes me excited that there may be new works by the time I join the industry. So what are you waiting for? There’s one more show on tonight! You may have missed your chance to get the cheap seats, but you don’t want to miss your chance to see this incredible show…
Like any good Australian banter, this show does feature some swearing…. It’s probably a show you want to go to your mates with and not your 5-year-old child. Go for a beer at the Print Hall first, get some tucker and then come to the Aussie opera! You won’t regret it!
Written by Katherine Goyder