First published on 23 Apr 2012. Updated on 31 May 2012.
For many years derided in this country as an old-fashioned art form of declining relevance, opera is all of a sudden the centre of attention. Its future is being passionately debated in the papers, on radio, television and of course the internet, while opera companies of remarkably diverse size and direction overtake to the autumn stages of Melbourne.
It's even being showcased at the headquarters of performing arts cool – the Malthouse Theatre.
OperaXS is a mini opera festival exploring the potential of the opera form. The centrepiece will be a re-staging of the 2010 collaboration between Chamber Made Opera and Rawcus, Another Lament. But this is no mere return season. Another Lament was originally part of a series of salon operas staged in private living rooms around Melbourne. In this return season Chamber Made will be transforming the Malthouse's Beckett Theatre into a replica of the living room where it was first performed.
"None of us really know how the work will change," says David Young, artistic director of Chamber Made. "We're moving in the opposite direction, transforming a theatre into a living room. That will be an interesting new aspect of the work."
The original intention of the living room series was to take opera back to it birthplace, as chamber music in the private homes of generous patrons. By going back to where it all began David Young says the company is trying to re-define what opera is today, to "push the boundaries" of the form. "But now," he says, "it's important for a work like Another Lament to find its wider public."
It will still be an intimate spectacle, however. "I love an environment where you can get really close to the art," he says. "I think you experience it in a completely different way."
The story of Another Lament, is itself an intimate one. English composer Henry Purcell returned from the theatre one night to find that he’d been locked out by his wife. It is said by some that this brought on a severe case of pneumonia which soon killed him.
"It's a tiny historical footnote, one of those idiosyncratic anecdotal moments that you can amplify and examine."
Another Lament is performed by Danish composer, vocalist and bassist Ida Duelund Hansen, who audiences may have seen most recently at the Malthouse in the orchestra of the Four Larks production, The Plague Dances. Directed by Kate Sulan with sound design from Jethro Woodward and lighting design by Richard Vabre.
Check the Malthouse website for details on other events taking place as a part of OperaXS.