Monday, May 21, 2018

Les Mamelles De Tiresias

Photo by Clare Hawley

Sydney Conservatorium of Music Opera School present LES MAMELLES DE TIRESIAS (THE BREASTS OF TIRESIAS) by Francis Poulenc, in the Music Workshop, Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Saturday, 19th May: Tuesday, 22nd May; Thursday, 24th May; Saturday, 26th May.

I first saw and heard LES MAMELLES DE TIRESIAS, by Francis Poulenc, as part of a triple bill at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, under the title of PARADE in 1981. The triple bill was made up of the ballet PARADE, music by Eric Satie, the Poulenc one act opera, LES MAMELLES DE TIRESIAS and L'ENFANT ET LES SORTILEGES, by Maurice Ravel. It was Directed by John Dexter and Designed by David Hockney. Conducted by Manuel Rosenthal (a student classmate of Ravel's.) It was a memorable night of theatre going.

LES MAMELLES DE TIRESIAS, was written by Poulenc in 1947, using a playtext by Guillaume Apollinaire, written in 1903 and first presented in 1917 - and according to Apollinaire a 'drame surrealiste'.

The opera is introduced by the Director of the Theatre who tells us that what we are about to see is 'to reform morals'. It promulgates a paen to love and parenthood with a purposely sophisticated naivete. Therese releases her breasts which have become balloons and she and her husband reverse their male, female roles - she becomes Tiresias with a full moustache. He has 40,000 children and there is some debate about the strains that causes society. The gently surreal comedy involves us with birth control and decontrol, feminism, war and the kitchen sink. Considering Poulenc wrote this in 1947 one can see why he made his choice of comic tone to encourage the re-population of France after such a devastating war.

Kate Gaul has Designed Set and Costume simply, but effectively, with a visual contribution from Hair and, especially, Makeup Designer, Rachel Dal Santo. The effective Lighting Design is by Fausto Brusamolino, and Ms Gaul guides her young performers through a thoroughly pleasant journey, encouraging performances that grew in confidence and relaxation as the audience warmed to their offers.

At this Opening Performance Esther Song gave a confident and arresting sound to Therese/Tiresias (shared in other performances by Jessica Blunt), and Gavin Browne gave a remarkable singing (after a nervous start) and witty acting turn, as the Husband. Haotian Qi brought a confidence to his double role as the Director, and later, to Presto. All the company sang confidently under the Musical Direction of Dr Stephen Mould. The orchestra was tight and bright. All together it was gently exhilarating.

At just under an hour in length, the performance had a spin to it that was infectious and gave us, the audience, a content that brought a smile to our faces.

Poulenc only wrote three operas, the other two being: the famous, THE DIALOGUES OF THE CARMELITES (1953-6) and LA VOIX HUMAINE (1957).

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