Life swings high and low in opera

The Trapeze Artists, Opera Otago, Hanover Hall, Sunday, March 17.

Opera Otago’s contribution to Dunedin Fringe Festival events opened yesterday with a brilliant performance of The Trapeze Artists, a chamber opera written in 1996 by Anthony Ritchie.

Hanover Hall with special lighting and atmosphere was an appropriate venue for this unique work, which enthralled the large audience at the opening performance.

The original commission nearly 30 years ago was by Louise Petherbridge, who conceived the idea, researched and created a libretto from poems by Cilla McQueen and Hone Tuwhare.

Director Terry MacTavish opened with a tribute to Petherbridge, who died in January, knowing and excited about the new performance.

MacTavish concluded her introductions by beginning to recite lines of the opening poem, only to be "halted" by the Circus Woman (mezzo Tessa Romano) — a whip-wielding ringmaster character with incredible makeup, who remained throughout, posturing with exemplary facials and body language creating unity and forward progress.

The 45-minute work invokes thoughts and situations akin to vicissitudes of life, as "Man" (baritone Kieran Kelly) and "Woman" (soprano Cathy Highton-Sim) interpret poetic sentiments of man and woman falling in love, searching for the meaning of life.

Highton-Sim and Kelly worked well together, both in excellent voice and with outstanding success in portraying growth in the relationship of man and woman through oscillating playful or low moments in life.

Subtle costuming and thoughtful accessories (devised by Charmian Smith) were changed in view, but almost off-stage, also highlighting shifting fashions, circumstances and situations of the diverse poetry.

Excellent interpretation of Ritchie’s rhythmic, often jazzy and syncopated score was directed and lead by pianist Sanaz Rezai, and included percussion (Georgie Watts) and double bass (Lloyd Williams).

This exceptional work, with its intense poetic origins, portrays life as a precariously swinging trapeze act.

I recommend going early to read the complete poems posted (in large print) on the wall.

Repeat performances are at 6pm today and tomorrow.