15 May 2015
Victorian Opera – Seven Deadly Sins
Victorian Opera, Symphony Australia and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra's unique composer development program gives four composers the opportunity to collaboratively produce a work of music theatre, reimagining the seven deadly sins for the 21st century. The work will be performed in Hamer Hall in Melbourne on 6 November 2015, with the cabaret artist Meow Meow, Victorian Opera and Orchestra Victoria. The seven 'wicked new songs' are inspired by the confrontational style of the Berliner Kabarett and the dark side of Australia's cities, featuring Brisbane as Sloth, Sydney as Lust, Canberra as Pride, Melbourne as Greed, Hobart as Envy, Adelaide as Gluttony and Perth as Anger.
The four composers selected for this project are Mark Viggiani, Julian Langdon, Ian Whitney and myself, Jessica Wells. At this stage in the project we have all written and submitted our two librettos each and are now completing piano/vocal scores for workshops in Melbourne in June with the singers. In early July we will head down to Hobart to hear the works with orchestra (the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra), after which we'll have time to fine-tune things in time for the performance in November.
I received Melbourne: Greed and Canberra: Pride as my two 'city-sins', and have just hours ago drawn the final barline on the Canberra piece which I've called Team Australia. I have written the libretto myself - which is something I've never done before - and I'm hoping that my upbringing as the daughter of a journalist has been successfully influential on my writing via years of reluctant osmosis! Indeed the research involved in writing this libretto was crucial to the tone I wanted to take with representing our current and last three Prime Ministers in a rather gaudy, irreverent cabaret style that uses pastiche to highlight the characters in a 'rubbery figures' style that pulls no punches.
Abbott, Gillard, Rudd and Howard are presented onstage as Aussie Olympians, flanked by three Commentators who act as a kind of 'Greek chorus', often using rhyming verse to introduce, question and denigrate the leaders as these orate actual speeches they made in public. I was able to find material for this from websites of quotations, including my favorite one 'Tony and Ponies' which has famous Tony Abbott quotes interspersed with photos of people and their horses in fancy dress. Yep, there's a photo of a little girl dressed as Bo Peep and her horse dressed as a sheep… followed by a Tony Abbott quote. This one I used in the libretto: 'If we're honest, most of us would accept that a bad boss is a little bit like a bad father or a bad husband… you find that he tends to do more good than harm. He might be a bad boss but at least he's employing someone while he is in fact a boss'.
I was a little worried about the political implications of mocking our nation's leaders on stage, using seven opera singers with an orchestral score. But then again, with such gems as these to mine, and with the politicians characters so ripe with comedic promise, is this not the BEST time ever to be attempting such a thing? As a forty-year-old mother of two young children, maybe it seems ludicrous that lines like 'Fair shake of the sauce bottle!' are entering into my compositional sphere. But hey it was K. Rudd that said it, not me.
I'd never been that interested in politics until I had my kids. At the last election I actually went out with a Gonski sticker on my cap and distributed pamphlets in my Lower North Shore suburb, knowing full well that, being in Joe Hockey's seat, I had Buckley's of making much of a difference. Maybe the reason that this libretto and this music has been emanating from my brain with rather scary ease is due to the built-up frustrations of listening to the never-ending political gaffes in the news. When Prince Philip was knighted, I had pretty much just started this piece, and it was like the shot of adrenaline I needed to burst forth in a mad explosion of fanfares, Ziegfeld Follies, vaudeville, swing, Latin montunos, musical theatre, atonal textures, monologues, barbershop quartet harmonies, and more.
To be fair, it's not only Abbott that gets scrutinised. Howard, Rudd and Gillard also 'cop it sweet', proving that the crux of the moral is 'pride precedes the fall'. And fall they do… just wait till you see the staging!
Victorian Opera: Seven Deadly Sins (VO website)
© Australian Music Centre (2015) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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