Live review: Sleeping Beauty @ Dark Mofo

TSO and VO unite - with puppets

BY CHRISTOPHER LEON

 

Sleeping Beauty (Dark Mofo)
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and Victorian Opera
Theatre Royal, 10 June

 

What’d you miss?

  • Creepy puppets
  • Skillful performance from singers and orchestra
  • A gothic aesthetic on the small Tassie stage

 

Dark Mofo 2017 has been a resounding success, with attendance almost double that of last year’s festival. One of the most delightful and entertaining events this time around was Sleeping Beauty, featuring the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and Victorian Opera in a magical collaborative performance of Charles Perrault’s The Sleeping Beauty, as musically envisaged by Respighi.

The small Theatre Royal stage was set up with abstract pillars and props, which singers and puppeteers climbed and stood around. The set-up didn’t change throughout the short performance. The TSO players were in the pit underneath, while members of the Victorian Opera portrayed characters from the story – accompanied by their own puppet avatars (from lead designer Joe Blanck, of Walking with Dinosaurs and King Kong industry fame).

At first, I found myself a little creeped out by the large puppets, which were crafted with drawn-out faces and sunken, dark eyes. Some appeared to float above the stage, others were morphed into the cast as though they were human. But because of their eerie appearance, it was a challenge to relate to puppets’ characters – even the ‘good’ ones appeared evil.

The singers (who can’t be individually named, thanks to the exclusive branding combined with absence of program notes, notorious across Dark Mofo events) gave solid performances, with voices shining brightly throughout the darkness of the winter show.

The TSO facilitated an impressive balance between orchestra and opera. But aside from the musical success, I felt it inappropriate that the singers were not dressed in any way that indicated their connection to their puppet characters. This made it difficult to follow new characters and scenes that involved several singers at once. Because the performers were singing in plain clothes, this detracted from the otherwise imposing presence of the elaborately dressed, giant puppets.

However, despite the casual appearance of the human cast, I found their acting and singing to be engaging. The performance was near-flawless, each singer presenting a uniquely distinguished musical voice. And by the end of the night, I’d become enwrapped.


Image credit: Charlie Kinross. Image courtesy Victorian Opera and Dark Mofo.

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