Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Riders at The Malthouse

Dad and I saw The Riders at the Malthouse tonight, performed by the Victorian Opera, based on The Riders by Tim Winton.

There were so many things I loved about this production.

It was an opera, and they had the lyrics flashing up on a large display above the stage. I greatly appreciated this because as impressive as the singing was (and it was) operatic singing is occasionally  inscrutable.

Speaking of impressive singing, the singing was impressive. I was entranced watching Barry Ryan's mouth open so wide and feeling the power of his voice. I don't watch much opera. I felt goose pimples with the rising tension he brought forth. Dimity Shepherd's voice was full of verve and was readily picked out when filling out the supporting vocals.

The orchestra had me thrilled with dramatic flourishes. I was impressed with Jennifer Morrish on percussion - her section was at the right hand end of the pit. From my second row seat I watched her constantly move between instruments during the opera. There was a small black and white display showing her video of Richard Mills, the conductor, who was at her back most of the time. I could see two xylophones, a massive drum, some high hats, a set of tubular bells and a massive gong that she drew very powerful sounds from. I asked her afterwards to show me - she brought out this large bow (like a violin bow, but larger) and I watched as she played it against a hole in the middle of the gong.

These were the things I loved about this performance.

I did not like the story.

It was tedious and seemed to consist of almost entirely of Scully (the protagonist played by Barry Ryan) bemoaning over his wife abandoning their family. That's an admittedly harsh judgment on what should be a tension filled plot, but the story was a piteous whinging session. I did not feel like the story fit an operatic form at all. Some of the dialogue was trite, and repeated just in case we didn't get it the first time. The story focused repetitively on Scully bemoaning the loss of Jennifer (the wife who abandons him) and how much he loves her and his daughter Billie, and how afraid he is that he has been cuckolded while he was working at menial jobs to pay for his wife's training or lessons.

The story was tawdry because it contrasted poorly against the fiery drama of the music, the singing, and the mythical imagery of The Riders interspersed throughout the story (of the Wild Hunt mythology).

He wore a storm upon his shoulders. He wielded a whip of black lightning. -- Two vivid phrases I remember from the play, describing The Riders. My mind was full of wild images from this, that I couldn't reconcile with the play.

The imagery of The Hunt downright confused me. I imagined that it represents Scully's fruitless chase for his wife, the despair he feels at failing to find her or get any closure, and how this notion will become a ghost that chases him as relentlessly as the riders of The Hunt. However, I failed to place this within the context of the play in a meaningful way because the action and dialogue seemed so far away from anything magical or powerful. We saw the struggle of a helpless man, afraid of being a cuckold, afraid of being abandoned, afraid of being judged badly by others (at least two characters assumed Scully beat his wife and child). I simply couldn't put the different sides of this drama together in my head. It was like pieces of two completely different stories.

I haven't read The Riders by Tim Winton, and based on at least one review, won't. I loved the opera singing, and the music of this production, but I don't feel like the story fit. Having said all that, I look forward to seeing the Victorian Opera again, hopefully at The Malthouse!

See the program guide for The Riders here:

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