Promises, promises… and a prospect of Bliss

Promises, promises… and a prospect of Bliss


norman lebrecht

February 04, 2010

Three publishers in London and New York are working day and night to supply me with audited figures of their most performed 21st century works in response to yesterday’s post. Or so they swear. I will pass the information on as soon as it hits my mailbox.

Meanwhile, I see that Brett Dean’s opera of Peter Carey’s novel Bliss is going to hit the boards next month in Sydney and Melbourne, and in Hamburg at the end of September.

Bliss the novel is an ad-man’s view of the afterlife, glimpsed during a near-fatal heart attack. How this makes an opera for the big stage is a challenge for librettist Amanda Holden and I am more than a little curious to see the results.

Brett, former viola player in the Berlin Philharmonic and an all-round good guy, is a composer of considerable subtelty. He complains that he’s already had to downscale the orchestration for the broom-cupboard pit of the Australian Opera. Will they never repair that wretched space?

The Sydney premiere will be conducted by Elgar Howarth, deputising for the late Richard Hickox who was hugely enthusiastic about the opera. The Hamburg show will be conducted by Simone Young, Hickox’s predecessor as music director in Sydney. One way and another, this could be the great all-Australian opera.



  • JohnofOz says:

    Of course Oz has history, but mostly with overseas themes. Isaac Newton, Arthur Benjamin (of whose four completed operas, one, “The Devil Take Her” actually did get a performance at the Melbourne Tivoli. Alfred Hill has a few credits but mostly with a New Zealand flavour, and Peggy Glanville Hicks played the field with Thomas Mann, Robert Graves and Lawrence Durrell. Edgar Bainton apparently also wrote for opera.
    More recently there is the Richard Mills/Peter Goldsworthy “Batavia” which had a good down home theme, but perhaps John Haddock’s “Madeline Lee” was too american to claim full Oz heritage. Haddock’s work is the only one of the above I have seen, and found it excellent.
    So perhaps “Bliss” may well be the great all-Australian opera. It’s a fine book. Let’s hope so. But Brett Dean’s music can be, um, (how shall I put it?) not very accessible.
    Be that as it may, we look forward with geat anticipation to seeing Bliss later this year.

  • broostah says:

    I’m just sorry I no longer live in Australia, and will miss “Bliss the Opera”. As always with these things, it will have to be good – not to mention “bring something new” to the original creative work – to equal or trump “Bliss the Novel” (1981) not to mention “Bliss the Movie” (1985, dir. Ray Lawrence, starring the wonderful Barry Otto).
    I’d like to add to JohnofOz’s list “Voss” by the recently deceased Richard Meale, which I think might be receiving a re- (or new) staging sometime in the not-too-distant. Original novel by Patrick White, libretto by David Malouf, albeit featuring a German explorer but lost – lest we forget it – in the Australian desert. I hope also, one day, Richard’s ill-fated “Mer de glace” is given a proper staging; there’s a lotta great music in there.
    Re. the Sydney Opera House pit, it’s well-known that it is smaller than ideal and sounds like the orchestra is sitting in an old Arnott’s Family Assorted tin; but what can they do? The building sits (swims?) on a polder in the harbour, has leaky underwater dressing rooms, and I can’t think how any space could be created … short of pulling the whole thing down and starting all over. Which I hope they never do. So the xylophonist has to stand upstairs in the wings every time they do Salome, who cares? It’s such a bloody beautiful building, mate.

  • JohnofOz says:

    Thanks broostah for pointing out my egregious oversight of Voss.

  • Huw Belling says:

    Simone Young told me she tried to get the broom-cupboard expanded by sitting the then State Premier (and notorious dilettante) Bob Carr next to the horns while they blasted his ears.
    “Could the violas hear what’s going on when those guys are playing, Bob?”
    “No, Simone, they certainly couldn’t” he said correctly, and approved at least nominal funding for renovation.
    Clearly that was not enough. I am sorry to hear the broom cupboard compromised Bliss, which I am deadly excited about. I see there are already complaints about Dean’s accessibility. (Though I note the Grawemeyer lay panel didn’t have any trouble with him) and, well, the pit isn’t very accessible either, but many show tunes have been scraped from its bottom.
    Bliss will give complacent subscribers a run for their money: the same ear blasting that the Premier needed back in Simone’s heyday.