Of Mice and Men

Submitted by Simon Parris on Sunday, 27th Nov 2011 TP Rating:

Date of Show:  Saturday, 26th November 2011 (All day)

Venue:  State Theatre

Shimmering like a mirage in a landscape of revivals and classics, Of Mice and Men is modern opera at its affecting and accessible best.

The straightforward simplicity and searing heartbreak of John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella prove to be the perfect ingredients for a deeply moving opera. The swirling, highly evocative music plays more like a dramatic film score, perfectly expressing the subtext and internal conflict such that opera seems the most inevitable form for the oft-adapted piece.

Carlisle Floyd’s 1970 o44444pera, for which he also wrote the libretto, is a study in character-driven action and economy of writing. Inevitable tragedy looms large from the opening bars but the audience are taken in, nonetheless, by the burning hopes and vivid dreams of George, Lenny and, indeed, the other ranch hands. Each of the characters, seven of which are male, is sharply drawn, given their own distinct voice in the music.

The quality of the material is more than matched by the lovingly staged production, helmed by film director Bruce Beresford, who more than proved his stage mettle with the stunning success A Streetcar Named Desire. There is a strong synergy between Beresford’s direction, Designer John Stoddart’s meticulously crafted settings and costumes and Nigel Levings‘ atmospheric lighting. In each tableau, most especially the clearing in the woods, the backdrop, props and characters merge to create images as gorgeous and vivid as oil paintings. This degree of collaboration is the art of opera at its finest.

The completely natural, realistic feel draws the audience into the action and commands their sympathy and affection. As the music builds to the shooting of Candy’s poor old dog, an example of the keenly observed incidents that make up the plot, it is almost too painful to watch, even though the shooting takes place off stage. 55555

Stage design is perfectly complemented by a range of TH Benton paintings, which are projected onto the full size of the scrim during three scene change pauses. Tension and anticipation are ratcheted up several notches before the final scene by the use of a filmed segment showing George and Lenny fleeing Curley and the ranch hands. Even audience members sitting well back in the cavernous State Theatre are drawn into the action through these massive visual images.

American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey demonstrates why is in high demand to play the role of Lenny. A perfect match physically, Griffey projects Lenny’s loveable simplicity right across the footlights making the final tragedy all the more keenly felt. Griffey’s diction is extremely clear, and his rich, almost falsetto tenor voice brings to mind a young Mandy Patinkin.

Baritone Barry Ryan sings with seemingly effortless strength and great conviction. Just as strong an actor, Ryan’s portrayal makes George’s broken devastation at Lenny’s disaster quite palpable and totally heartbreaking.

Jacqueline Mabardi, all busty curves and platinum blonde hair, captures the dangerous flirtation and desperation of Curley’s Wife in her shimmering soprano. Mabardi and Griffey’s act three duet, in which Curley’s Wife and Lenny sing passionately of their dreams without listening to a word the other is saying, is a highlight of the night.66666

Jud Arthur completely captures the longing and loneliness of Curley, underplaying the role to perfection. Luke Gabbedy, fast proving himself one of Opera Australia’s most talented and appealing young performers, is commanding as ranch foreman Slim, confidently demonstrating the quality of his singing and acting talents.

Conductor Tom Woods leads Orchestra Victoria in a performance that brings out the full colour and richness of the highly expressive score. Anthony Hunt’s preparation of the Opera Australia Chorus is assured, particularly in the moments of piano off-stage singing.

Lovers of dramatic musical theatre would thoroughly enjoy Of Mice and Men. Fans of traditional opera who are perhaps afraid of anything even slightly different are strongly advised not to miss such an exciting, exquisitely presented, beautifully performed opera.

Of Mice and Men has three more performances at the State Theatre, the

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