Steinbeck classic

a compelling opera in Beresford’s hands

November 28, 2011

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of  stars

OPERA

Of Mice and Men

Opera Australia

State Theatre, until December 10

IT MIGHT be odd to call an opera 40 years old a new work, but Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men, adapted from John Steinbeck’s bleak novella, is certainly new to Melbourne audiences, and Opera Australia deserves great credit for staging it.

In few productions do the parts come together so satisfyingly, creating a dramatic, cogent and compelling whole – even more so than Bruce Beresford’s last literary classic with the company, A Streetcar Named Desire (2009).

Of Mice and Men tells of an odd couple – the mentally disabled giant Lennie Small and his mentor/carer, George Milton – drifting through Great Depression California, forced to keep moving by Lennie’s mishaps, sustained by the hope of buying a small farm.

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This is a fine opera – taut and moving, with accessible if often astringent music – in which the pathos of desperate men scrabbling for a subsistence and living only on their dreams (so important in the Steinbeck story) is powerfully conveyed.

You won’t drive home whistling the tunes, but you will be strongly moved.

The production team is little short of inspired. Director Beresford brings all his cinematic craft, including a tense film interlude before the final scene, John Stoddart’s excellent sets – woods, a bunkhouse, a barn – feel grittily authentic, while Nigel Levings‘ lighting is evocative, even poetic.

American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey as Lennie is nothing short of inspired, in total vocal control and utterly inside the part in which he has made his name, constantly moving from foot to foot or rocking, longing for gentleness but always destructive. He has a charismatic presence. Barry Ryan as George also brings a touch of genius to his demanding role.

The all-Antipodean support cast is generally excellent: Luke Gabbedy as the sympathetic Slim, Jacqueline Mabardi exuding sexuality as the lonely wife who finds relief in dangerous flirtation, Jud Arthur as the one-armed Candy, Bradley Daley as the short bully Curley.

Orchestra Victoria, under the sensitive baton of Tom Woods, continues to impress with its mastery of a demanding score.



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Robin Harley