Opera review: Galileo, Victorian Opera

A bold and epic new opera from Richard Mills that almost reaches its potential.

In its world premiere, Victorian Opera’s Galileo celebrated both Galileo’s life and composer Richard Mills’ final evening as Artistic Director after a decade with the company.

The new opera (staged as a one-off concert rather than a fully-fledged production) offered insights into Galileo’s achievements and relationships, providing powerful glimpses into the challenges for an individual battling complex questions of science and truth, and the strain it puts on personal relationships.

Mills’ complex score was expansive, skipping through musical styles quickly. While it held beautiful moments, the rapid progression left little opportunity for quiet rumination on critical moments in Galileo’s life. A little respite would have gone a long way.

Five angels and five devils frequently visited Galileo, providing a back-and-forth commentary on the beauty of truth and music on the one hand and the gluttony of the world on the other. The angels had subtle references to Dante’s Divine Comedy throughout, though they were never too obvious. As Librettist Malcolm Angelucci says in the Program Notes, they were a ‘just a small, secret wink’. Raphael Wong, as one of the Devils, was a standout, with immense power in his voice and presence – especially in closing both acts with a wicked flourish and laugh.

They were frequently joined by a large ensemble, filling the stage and theatre with a layered, commanding sound.

The Plague Soprano (Stacey Alleaume) appeared in the second act, with the Devils delighting in the destruction. Alleaume’s voice was exceptionally pure and clear, as she brought the plague on all.

Mezzo Dimity Shepherd was equally stunning as Marina Gamba, Galileo’s love and mother of his three children. Her range and vocal control as her ghost ebbs in and out of Galileo’s memory was particularly impressive.

Read: Opera review: Götterdämmerung (The Ring Cycle), QPAC

Though featuring exceptional talent and execution, Galileo frequently felt too big and busy, especially in this workshop production. Full staging for this new opera would have heightened its impact and, perhaps, celebrated the end of the season and Mills’ time as Artistic Director more appropriately.

Despite this, the celebrations following the curtain call were joyous and fitting, and Mills’ focus on supporting new work and Australian creatives was clear. Amid a mass of colourful streamers thrown by members of the orchestra, Mills and the Chair of the Victorian Opera Board, Genevieve Overell AM, acknowledged everyone involved in the company – from the performers over the years through to the music staff who, as Mills noted, are ‘the soul of an opera company’.

Victorian Opera with Orchestra Victoria and La Compañia
Palais Theatre, St Kilda
Composer and Conductor: Richard Mills
Librettist: Malcolm Angelucci

Galileo was performed at the Palais Theatre, St Kilda, Melbourne on 22 December 2023

Savannah Indigo is a researcher and copywriter, trained in publishing, dance, literature and law. Passionate about gender issues and promoting equity through tech design, she has researched Indigenous Data Sovereignty for the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector and is developing a paper about harassment in the Metaverse. She has written for Brow Books, Books+Publishing magazine, The Journal of Supernatural Literature (Deakin University) and the Science and Technology Law Association, and is a 2022 Hot Desk Fellow at The Wheeler Centre.