03 October 2015

Victorian Opera: Simon and The Suit

The Grumpiest Boy in the World
Victorian Opera
Coopers Malthouse
3 October 2015

Jacob Lawrence was on stage for the entire time today. Most of that was shared with a dog. When it wasn’t with a dog it was with a lion. When it wasn’t a dog or a lion it was with children – even if the oldest of them was 25.

Given the adage about stages, children and animals, poor Jacob/Zachary Riddling (by no  means middling) shouldn’t have stood a chance. But he did.

Two weeks ago I sat in on the first voice run-through of The Grumpiest Boy in the World. Jacob was on top of his part then. Four days ago I sat in on the sitzprobe. Then, the score lay open at his feet – just a security thing.

Today he gave a sizzling performance; note perfect, witty and beautifully articulated . He was on top of the dog too – literally in one scene where the hapless dog, having been dispatched to the back yard, doubled as a horse.

Jacob Lawrence, dog and fantasy chorus incl. a squirrel monkey on a scooter (as you'd expect)
Source: https://www.facebook.com/victorianopera/photos/a.417759429218.192233.127956549218/10153378160534219/?type=3&theater

It was the chorus, though, that gave Jacob/Zachary a run for his money in sharing the lime-light. They were superb.

This opera is a Victorian Opera commission. It had a young cast, some drawn from Victorian Youth Opera Chorus Ensemble (VOYCE). And it was the first totally solo, it’s-all-down-to-me opera conducting-in-a-suit job of Simon Bruckard.

The chorus was a dream group. They’d rolled up to the first singing run-through two weeks ago with most of them having learned their part. On stage today in the second performance they were energetic, perfectly drilled and chorally thrilling. The little buggers (some of whom were really big buggers) could sing! – superbly.

My opinion of Grumpy today is really not relevant, though. The big test was the response of the target audience: the kids. My test subjects, a dozen or so boys and girls aged 6 to 10 in my field of view (a 4 metre radius) were totally absorbed for the entire time. A 10 year old right index finger didn’t leave it’s default position – in the right nostril – for the full 50 minutes.

The kids were there for Zachary and the terrific fantasy scenes they created. I was there for Simon Bruckard, the conductor.

I had first interviewed him in late July for Behind the Curtain, Victorian Opera’s blog. We spoke again in mid September when he had only just seen the full score of Grumpy.Over the past couple of months BtC published three of my pieces following Simon working on the score. 

Now, I wanted so see how he managed that score with a real, live cast – and pit ensemble – in front of him and a real live audience including those most uncompromising of critics – children –  behind him.

 In a word, like a pro (that’s three words). The confidence I’d seen at the sitzprobe was there again today. The absolute control of the young chorus and note by note support of the principals was there as well. The only crack in his control was him not being terribly sure what to do with the applause that was justly his. And that was nice. The quiet, unassuming but clearly competent young musician who had talked to me about his life and music during the year was there again today.

Opinion in our house is that Grumpy, the canine lion (or leonine canid) and Simon B should be reprised.

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