Friday, August 3, 2012

Cloudstreet the Opera present a Workshop Showing of CLOUDSTREET : THE OPERA by George Palmer at Carriageworks

CLOUDSTREET, the Tim Winton novel. CLOUDSTREET, the stage play by Nick Enright and Justin Monjo. CLOUDSTREET, the mini-series for television. And, now CLOUDSTREET : THE OPERA, libretto and music by George Palmer.

On Saturday morning, last, the 28th of July, 2012, just to record accurately for posterity's sake, at 11 am, I went to Carriageworks, Track 7, on invitation from some friends, to see the result of a 12 day workshop of act one, of this very 'young' project, it, attempting to find a way to organise the material from the page to the stage for the first time.

Gale Edwards is the director. Simon Kenway the Music Director. Together, with them,16, 'youngish' singers/actors have bravely helped shape this material into a presentation. It is mightily impressive.

Beginning from absolute scratch this company, with a musician and minimum crew have moulded a coherent first step, in what Sondheim calls: "putting it together". Cutting, pasting, re-writing, relearning, staging, re-staging, even lighting (Christopher Snape); and re-lighting and re-staging, again; re-writing libretto and music, again and again; perforce, then, adjusting orchestration, shifting order, re-learning song, re-blocking movement, re-motivating character, and, all in 12 days. A miracle.

The story of the Lamb and Pickles family in Perth is well known, embedded in our psyches as part of our recent literary and cultural history (unless, forgive me, you have been living under a rock).The libretto and music by Mr Palmer is extremely exciting and a wonderful expression of Mr Winton's touchstone of Australian authenticity. The libretto, feels true and sharp, the music simple but intricate, beautiful - in parts, breathtakingly moving (Fish and Quick on the river sequence, for instance). Even in this first, raw, stretching into possibilities in Track 7 : tender and gentle. Funny and tragic.

It worked because of the sturdy super structure of the novel, plots and characters, and the inspiration of Mr Palmer's music, and the sheer love and commitment of all the company present. Such love has to be requited and the audience, somewhat surprised at the quality of the presentation, gave it back, with a loud response of applause. This is what it might feel like to be at the beginning of something that could burgeon into greatness.

Ms Edwards is in love with the piece. Mr Kenway, too, it seems. Both realise that this is a first step but, given support for further intense development, I believe I witnessed - what luck - the birth of a potential classic. A true Australian Folk Opera. I kept been swept to the memories of the PORGY AND BESS folk opera world and felt the same kind of identification power, here, in this story and people, pulsing through the morning. I felt, this is my, our, story. It felt like an embracing hug from my mum and dad's world. It felt good to be Australian - I had a living heritage of storytelling. Of being part of a universal need to remember OUR stories (I hope it does not sound too parochial?) On reflection - Who cares? - The CLOUDSTREET story is connected to some true centre, some true heart of mine, undoubtedly. This opera, simply confirmed it, wonderfully.

Whether, the ultimate home of the piece is in hands of the commercial musical theatre, or an Opera Company, I reckon attention should be made. This is an important potential.

Gale Edwards, achieved in 12 days, with her company, a very impressive morning. I wondered just what is her genius, for, whatever it is, Mr Palmer could not have been better served. This company of young artists were, indeed, inspired.

P.S. In the search for the new Artistic Director of the Sydney Theatre Company, based on this work alone, one would have to include Gale Edwards as a leading candidate.

But, then, her experience and her 'genius' might be a handicap for the 'hipsters' of our present cultural milieu. She knows too much. She has a wealth of knowledge. A respect for tradition. A muscular vision for the future. She has a deeply embedded context of the Australian Performing Arts Culture. She has a vibrant International context for the Performing Arts. Perhaps, way to threatening for the youngsters, dominating out there. And our Corporate Boards?

Back to CLOUDSTREET : THE OPERA , just for history, a list of the artists involved last Saturday:

Lurelle Alefounder = Dolly.
Dora Armannsdottir = Red.
Keara Donohoe = Elaine.
Simon Gleeson = Fish. (Outstanding, by the way !!!!)
Simon Halligan = Chub.
Pascal Herington = Lon.
David Hidden = Quick. (Terrific).
Jessica Hitchcock = Spirit Girl 2.
Michaela Leisk = Rose. (Terrific).
Kathryn McCusker = Oriel.
Barry Ryan = Sam (Impressive).
Ariya Sawadivong = Spirit Girl 1.
Taryn Srhoj = Spirit Girl 3.
Javier Vilarino = Ted.
Byron Warson = Lester.(Impressive).
Amanda Windred = Hattie.

Stephen Moylan = Stage Manager.
Christopher Snape = Lighting.
Jonathon Palmer = Sound engineer.
Choclate Fish = Film crew.

In awe.

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