Updated: Oct 10, 2022
Awakening Shadow (Sydney Chamber Opera)
Direction by Imara Savage
Music Direction by Jack Symonds
I’m a Benjamin Britten tragic so a performance piece at Carrigeworks showcasing his five canticles promised – and delivered – euphoria. It probably helped that I was beyond exhaustion for the ambitious mix of opera, video, stage craft, instrument and text held me in a heightened state of ‘wow’!
Of the five canticles of Britten, the first and last are hymns of love to both Britten’s (Christian) God and to his lover ('My beloved is mine and I am his' and 'The Death of Saint Narcissus'); the second, that brutal episode in the Old Testament where God demanded that Abraham sacrifice his son ('Abraham and Isaac'); the third, a rather more abstract ‘Still falls the Rain’; and the forth, ‘The Journey of the Magi’ that tells a retrospective tale of the three kings' search for the child Jesus. All are a heady mix of music and libretto that transport at every turn.
The operatic element is accompanied by a digitalised video of naked forms (video works by Mike Daly), that is seamless and beautiful. The very first – an ode by Britten that witnesses the tension between his love for God and his love for long-term partner Peter Pears ̶ is accompanied by a video work that appears as two naked bodies so entwined that limbs and torsos melt into one
I loved the contrast of this perfectly realised, seamless digital work with the very ‘of this world’ stage sets and props below the video projection. The stage set is all rough-hewn with instruments, textures, tulles, sequins ̶ plus a horrific paper mache ‘animal sacrifice’, and even a plastic baby that the chain-smoking Magi amusingly bounce while they recount the story of their travels … All these items and 'moments' are dramatically lit and shadowed by the work of lighting designer Alexander Berlage.
And the band played on (pianist Jack Symonds with Carla Blackwood on horn, Rowan Phemister on harp and Emma Jardine on violi) while the four singers of Sydney Chamber Opera (Brenton Spiteri, Emily Edmonds, Jane Sheldon and Simon Lobelson) sang like angels. At a latter part of the performance, the bearded Brenton Spiteri came to stage in a blue velvet dress, emphasising an interesting queer glamour to all the hyper real rapture of ‘Awakening Shadow’.
I loved this heady mix.
Sure, if was dizzying at times due to all the elements in the mix, but when you are playing with themes of ecstatic love, brutal sacrifice, sexual guilt and the memory of finding a new star/child saviour, things should be dizzying.
I thoroughly embraced the ambitious sensory cacophony.
‘Awakening Shadow’ was presented at Sydney’s Carriageworks