The Eighth Wonder

The Eighth Wonder
By Dennis Watkins and Alan John. Opera Australia. Forecourt Sydney Opera House. October 28 – November 5, 2016

What a pleasure to see an Australian written opera performed not only for the third time, but on a scale of excellence at every level that will ensure its revival for decades to come.

The normal trajectory for locally written operas is for them to be seen once in a brief season, squeezed in between classics. That mould has been shattered.

The unique experience begins when you put on headphones from which the music is broadcast into your ears with crystal clarity – allowing the detection of the most subtle nuances on stage, including flies buzzing around a BBQ and the ruffling of paper. It may be the world’s first ‘silent opera’ but it won’t be the last.

I was lucky enough to see the first production in 1995 inside the Opera House.

This production on the famous steps in front of the Opera House is shorter, with dialogue, more comedy and stunning visual projections.

The screen for the visuals is an inflatable replica of Fort Bennelong – which was the building on Bennelong Point used as a bus and tram depot that was demolished to make way for the Opera House.

The projections gave the experience a documentary feel, as you watched the demolition of the fort and construction of the Opera House over more than a decade.

It worked most brilliantly at the end of the first act when the architect finally solves the problem about how to construct the giant shell rooves of the Opera House.

The combination of a soaring beautiful aria and visuals displaying spheres being sliced and diced to create the skin of the building was sublime.

Just as clever was the simplicity of the design of the opera.  Bits of the stage were elegantly wheeled on and off as the scenes roamed locations from an Aztec temple, to the architect’s home in Denmark to many locations around Sydney.

The libretto has generous helpings of Aussie slang.

When the winning design was unveiled one sceptic said it, “reminds me of Copulating turtles! Overdressed Aunt Myrtles.” Others likened it to “French nuns in force!” and “Mushrooms trodden by a horse!”

Suffice to say none of the cast had any troubles with the language in this production. Even the leading man had the perfect accent for his part. Adam Frandsen who played the architect is a native of Denmark the homeland of Jorn Utzon.His soaring high tenor arias too were faultless.

The story of the building of the opera house is operatic in its scope. There is the handsome flawed hero architect, the old Premier who dies before his vision his realised, conflict between factions pulling the Opera House in different artistic directions and a villain in the guise of a ruthless new Premier.

The Eighth Wonder realises this scope of this epic with crystal clarity.

David Spicer

Images: Lightbox Photography

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