Brett Dean: Bliss travels to Edinburgh Festival and Hamburg State Opera(July 2010)
Brett Dean’s new opera travels from Australia to Europe, with performances at the Edinburgh Festival and a second production at Hamburg State Opera
It is rare for a new opera to enjoy two different productions in its first six months, but such is the case with Brett Dean’s Bliss, commissioned by Opera Australia and premiered in March at the Sydney Opera House. The first staging by Neil Armfield, conducted by Elgar Howarth, travelled to Melbourne in April and journeys to the Edinburgh Festival in September. Two weeks later a second production of Bliss by Ramin Gray opens at Hamburg State Opera conducted by Simone Young.
Long in gestation, the premiere of Bliss proved to be a red-letter day in Australian cultural life, with an ABC Television live broadcast, widespread news coverage, and an enthusiastic response from press and public alike:
“…here is an Australian opera so secure in form and purpose, it should, given care, live and flourish in all cultural climates for years. This is not to say it is necessarily an ‘easy’ work to understand. On the contrary, the technical and harmonic complexities of Brett Dean’s lyrical score, matched in words by Amanda Holden’s masterly distillation of Peter Carey’s original novel, demand much of an audience.
“Carey’s story of Harry, the advertising executive who dies for nine minutes and returns to life only to find his family and professional existence a living hell, may have been written 30 years ago, but its message of the perils of materialism inherent in us all still resounds. The beauty of Neil Armfield’s focused, flowing production… is how effortlessly yet meaningfully it propels us into Harry’s personal inferno. The night belonged to Harry. Peter Coleman-Wright, as adroit an actor as he is singer, takes us from darkness to light, via the paths of greed and insanity, with unerring brilliance of character and vocal assurance. It was as if he had been singing the role for years.”
“Bliss is a success in every way…It’s an eclectic mix of hard-edged modernism and expansive lyricism. And it works because Dean interweaves these disparate elements into a seamless entity. Dissonant chords and swirling textures nestle alongside appealing melodic shards and infectious rhythms… [Holden’s] poetic text is an eloquent distillation of everyday speech. By offering poignant insights into their motivations, she converts some of Carey’s unlikable characters into more sympathetic figures.”
“To his well-known skills as an orchestral composer, Dean has added an under-utilised empathy for the voice. The sung lines drive the musical and dramatic pace, underscored by beautifully detailed instrumental textures, wrought with an innate feeling for the expressive power of instrumental timbre, watched over by counterpoint and fine motivic workmanship.”
Sydney Morning Herald
In addition to Edinburgh, Dean appears at festivals in multiple roles as composer, violist and conductor. Following a feature at the Risor Chamber Music Festival in Norway (22-26 June), he is resident at the Cheltenham Music Festival (6-12 July) including the UK premiere of Recollections and world premiere of Epitaphs for string quintet when he joins the Australia Quartet. For first US performances of Epitaphs in August he joins the Orion Quartet at festivals in Santa Fe and La Jolla. The BBC Proms features Amphitheatre with the Australian Youth Orchestra conducted by Mark Elder (30 July) and Carlo with I Fagiolini (21 August).
Bliss (2004-09) 147’
Opera in three acts
Libretto by Amanda Holden,
after the novel by Peter Carey
2/4 September (UK premiere)
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Neil Armfield, director/Opera Australia/
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Elgar Howarth
12/15/19/21/25 September, 2 October
Ramin Gray, director/Hamburgische Staatsoper/
> Further information on Work: Bliss
Photo: Opera Australia/Branco Gaica
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