SYDNEY CHAMBER OPERA: Bold and extraordinary, I Have Had Enough fuses Bach with contemporary composer Jack Symonds in a production incorporating gothic, feminist and bondage themes.
With characteristic boldness and creative zeal, Sydney Chamber Opera have produced another extraordinary take on the operatic art form. This time, they’ve meshed Bach with Jack Symonds – 18th century with 21st century – in an electric, disturbing and, at times, quite amusing double bill.
In a production incorporating gothic, feminist, bondage, Christian and existentialist themes, four actors and two singers explore death, desire, power and liberation. I Have Had Enough scared off three prudish venues before NIDA gave it free rein to have its cake and eat it too – quite literally.
Director Kip Williams has conceived a tale of greed and lust, in which dog-collared women are sex slaves to an oversized gentleman, feeding him an enormous chocolate cake before finally turning the tables. Anna Dowsley, like a gothic, vampiric goddess, weaves her way through these mimed scenes as she sings Bach’s 1727 Cantata No. 82 – ‘Ich Habe Genug’ (I Have Had Enough). Mitchell Riley, a silent servant to the action during this first half, becomes vocal in the second half when young Sydney composer, Jack Symonds’ ‘Nunc Dimittis’ (Now Dismiss) premieres.
Symonds conceived ‘Nunc Dimittis’ as a continuation of Bach’s ‘Ich Habe Genug’. It uses the same text, based on a canticle from a text in the second chapter of Luke about the longing to depart the world – with a little TS Eliot thrown in. It is a musical and textural reflection on Bach’s original. Aurally, however, it is as though we have travelled from a verdant 18th century landscape to an appallingly futuristic conception of the same scene, one destroyed and blasted by three centuries of upheaval. And, although the production suggests that this future is free of the ideological, religious and social constraints of the past, it presents little in the way of optimism, ending, as it does, on an existentialist question mark.
Designer Emma Kingsbury’s 18th century-inspired costumes and whiteface makeup are a brilliant component in the production’s representations of both past and present attitudes. Mitchell Riley embraces his camp, larger-than-life character, with his fabulous drawn-on facial expression, while his vocal scaling of the heights, depths and insidious harmonies of Symonds’ music is a tour de force. Anna Dowsley’s rendition of Bach’s cantata is vocally warm and lustrous while her stage presence is likewise mesmerising.
Silently enacting their extraordinary scenes on Kingsbury’s dirt-covered bear-pit set, the four actors are entirely enmeshed in the rhythmic undertows of the music. Alexandra Aldrich, Michele Druman and Amanda McGregor as the three slaves and Gabriel Fancourt as their disturbingly oversized master all inhabit their roles seamlessly in the sharp spotlights and ghostly glows of Nicholas Rayment’s fabulous lighting design.
Behind the set, the ensemble of musicians, under conductor Huw Belling, pour forth Bach’s dulcet tones and Symonds’ scraping discords with equal power and precision. James Wannan’s viola solo is particularly dazzling.
While I Have Had Enough may discompose both seasoned opera and theatregoers alike, the opening night audience received this experimental, brave new production with the alacrity such creativity deserves.
Rating: 4 stars
Sydney Chamber Opera
I Have Had Enough
A staged double bill
J S Bach: Cantata No. 82 ‘Ich habe genug’
Jack Symonds: Nunc Dimittis
Parade Playhouse, Parade Theatres, Anzac Pde Kensington
Below: Jack Symonds' previous work with Sydney Chamber Opera, Notes from Underground
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What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level