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Oscar and Lucinda, based on Peter Carey's novel, is a two-act chamber opera, scored for six singers and an orchestra of sixteen. The two title characters are among Carey's most remarkable creations, and are ideally suited to opera by the intensity of their inner vision, and by their sad misalignment with the world around them (and ultimately with each other). Oscar is cast as a high tenor, while Lucinda is unusual for a romantic lead in being cast as a mezzo-soprano.
The remaining four singers each take on several sharply-etched minor characters, but also function together as a chorus; ensemble singing is thus a major feature of the score. The chorus plays a crucial function within Pierce Wilcox's libretto of effecting rapid shifts of scene, especially at the start where Oscar and Lucinda's individual stories unfold in parallel, converging only towards the end of the first act.
The orchestra contains many instruments in pairs: oboes (doubling cors anglais), clarinets (doubling bass clarinets), horns, violins, violas, cellos. A crucial part is also played by a mismatched pairing of piano and harp, and the line-up is completed by double bass and percussion (featuring bell sounds, reflecting the story's central elements of glass and religion). This scoring allows for a distinctive mix of mellow and edgy colours, with the reed instruments chosen as much for their unwillingness to blend easily as for their individual sonic and expressive potential.
Where the prevailing mood of Fly Away Peter was sparse and elegiac, Oscar and Lucinda operates at a much higher level of intensity, evoking the mad profusion, emotional extremes and vivid images of the novel.
Resonate article: A season for Australian opera by Anni Heino
Performances of this work
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