Master Peter’s Puppet Show; What Next

The Age – August 17 2012
By Barney Zwartz
**** (4 Stars)
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VICTORIAN Opera, which has made itself a flag bearer for adventurous and rare operas, has excelled itself with the double bill of Master Peter’s Puppet Show and What Next? at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Usually dramatic impact is sacrificed for the superb acoustics at this venue, but this is much the best presentation I have seen there, as director Nancy Black and designer Adam Gardnir have intelligently overcome the staging handicaps.

Falla’s witty and ironic 25-minute opera, loosely based on Don Quixote, comes across as a Spanish-flavoured equivalent of Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale.

There are just three singers – Ian Cousins, Carlos Barcenas and Lotte Betts-Dean, all excellent, but especially the latter – aided by effective and amusing shadow puppets.

What an asset Melbourne has in Orchestra Victoria (which is ably conducted by Daniel Carter), in great form in both works, especially Mark Fitzpatrick on the trumpet and Jasen Moulton on the horn.

A couple of minutes into the percussive, atonal and bizarre What Next? I was thinking, ”What on earth?” Doctor Who fans would feel at home as five adults and a child awake in an apocalyptic world in which at first they can barely speak.

But five minutes after that, its fascinating sound world and extremely clever libretto, full of word games, had drawn me in, and I was captivated.

The strong cast of Jessica Aszodi, Ireni Utley, Emily Bauer-Jones, Tim Reynolds, Gary Rowley and Austin Haynes coped splendidly.

And Elliott Carter answers an age-old philosophical conundrum: according to him, the sound of one hand clapping is exactly the same as two.