Yarra Valley Opera Festival Gala ★★★1/2
love fail ★★★★
From the opening seconds, two pure sustained notes by soprano Zoe Drummond, it was clear that Gertrude Opera’s worldwide gala on Friday night was going to be a success.
The gala, the opening event of GO’s 10-day Yarra Valley Opera Festival, featured 17 graduates of the company’s opera school, from the first in 2009 to 2019, and a highly accomplished group they were.
Some have gone on to forge fine careers; others are clearly going to if the opera world returns to pre-COVID-19 levels. Now scattered around the world, they joined the gala from Berlin, Dresden, Nanjing, Mexico City, London, Cardiff, Boston, Florida, Texas and San Francisco as well as Australian cities.
Not surprisingly, three of the finest were graduates from the first year, soprano Stacey Alleaume and mezzo Sophie Yelland singing a Gounod duet and baritone Hadleigh Adams in an aria from Gregory Spears’ 2016 opera Fellow Travelers. At the other chronological end, baritone NuoLin OuYang, who graduated last year, showed great promise in an aria by the Count from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.
Also impressive were soprano Jessica Harper in a Caccini song, New Zealand tenor Harry Grigg with a song from that country’s finest composer, Douglas Lilburn, and mezzo Ashlyn Tymms with a sultry account of the Habanera from Carmen. The online sound quality was surprisingly acceptable.
On Saturday night, GO teamed up with American experimental theatre company Monk Parrots to present New York composer David Lang’s chamber opera love fail, a haunting a cappella work for soprano, two mezzos and contralto plus occasional percussion.
The opera is based on the Tristan and Isolde story, in which Lang edits quotations from Gottfried von Strassburg, Sir Thomas Malory, Richard Wagner and others and sets them alongside excerpts from modern stories by Lydia Davis. The texts, pared to the barest minimum, are disjointed but powerful.
The music was by turns eerie, plangent, hypnotic and ethereal, with rich musical textures and sonorities, and the result was rather lovely. The singers – soprano Amelia Jones, mezzos Heather Fletcher and Belinda Paterson and contralto Alexandra Amerides, all Melbourne-based – were splendid, and clearly spent considerable effort getting the balance and blending absolutely right.
Monk Parrots’ video of a man, a young woman and an older woman – the lovers and the spouse – mostly moving slowly around a field, was highly symbolic if sometimes abstruse. Nevertheless it became increasingly evocative as the stories unfolded, and the ending was very effective.