Opera Queensland's Lorelei - An Alluring New Show
Claire Matthews | On 28, Feb 2020
Opera Queensland’s enchanting new show, Lorelei, showing at the Conservatorium Theatre, South Bank, from 27 March to 4 April, will start the season with a fresh, feminine take on the traditional siren myth.
The production retells the tale of the Lorelei, three sirens who sit atop the cliffs of Germany’s Rhine river, luring sailors to their death.
Lorelei breaks boundaries, retelling an ancient myth for modern women, questioning morals, mortality, gender roles, and identity.
Helpmann Award winner and ARIA nominee Ali McGregor stars as a siren, alongside Dimity Shepherd and Antionette Halloran.
Composed by Julian Langdon, and libretto written by Gillian Cosgriff and Casey Bennetto, the work blends between genres of tango, pop, opera and classical.
The Creative Issue caught up with writer and librettist Casey Bennetto ahead of the show to chat about all things opera.
The Creative Issue: Can you tell us a little about the show?
Casey Bennetto: Ali McGregor came to me with an idea for a show, to retell the traditional siren tale. The show was very much written for her, Antionette and Dimity. We wanted to challenge the old stories and the lack of empowerment for the sirens, how they were demonised and vilified as these pernicious influences. We wanted to talk about alternative ways of approaching the myth.
TCI: What was it like working with Opera Queensland, alongside Gillian Cosgriff and Julian Langdon?
CB: I began writing with Julian Langdon. Pretty soon, we realised it was problematic for the tale we were telling not to have more females involved in writing the show. For the integrity of the text, we needed some female collaborators. And the two who came in, Gillian Cosgriff for the writing and Sarah Giles to direct, transformed the work. I can’t say enough of their contribution.
I was more involved with the Victorian Opera, but my interactions with Opera Queensland have always been pleasant and I’m sure they’ll do justice to the show.
TCI: This opera retells the siren myth for the modern woman. What do you think of these themes of morality, mortality, gender, and identity?
CB: It was something that we wrestled with, as we worked out who these characters were, the sirens on the cliff. The Lorelei in legend was blamed for any number of sailors banging on the rock and not being able to navigate the river. We asked, what are the attitudes of these three Lorelei, to sailors who die and to men in general?
We wanted to show solidarity, we wanted to show women working together, and that they can have different opinions and can nonetheless push towards a common goal. We wanted to show that there were may different iterations of feminism and each Lorelei’s connection with it would change throughout the show.
TCI: What is the overarching message that you hope for the show to convey?
CB: I hope we show the importance of solidarity, and of continuing to fight for justice, even in the face of a system which often seems inclined not to acknowledge or to reward that struggle. You can find yourself cast within a certain role inside a system and be unable to break out from it, but that doesn’t mean you should stop trying. As a guy, having worked within Lorelei, I feel a little uncomfortable dictating what the moral might be. I think that definitely came from Ali, Sarah and Gillian.
TCI: What response are you hoping for in the audience?
CB: Well, I hope people enjoy it, that they laugh, that they admire the beautiful singing, and incredible costumes by Marg Horwell. I hope they get on-board with it, and enjoy the various musical styles, because it’s not just a straight operatic project. There’s cabaret and other musical styles like tango and pop, which Julian Langdon skilfully integrated into the score. I hope they enjoy the ride.
TCI: Do you have a particular favourite moment in the show?
CB: It’s interesting for Gill and I when we watch it, because we wrote the words thinking they would be performed in a certain way. There’ve been many occasions where we’ve watched a performance and Sarah has reimagined those situations in ways we found so exciting and unexpected and spectacular. I love the unveiling at the beginning of the show, and I won’t spoil the ending. Even as the writers, it surprised us very much how Sarah had chosen to stage it, but it was the most obvious, natural choice.
TCI: This show is not just straight opera, but blends styles and genres. Do you think this makes it more accessible for a wider audience?
CB: I hope so. Neither Gill nor I are from the opera world, particularly. My palette of musical influences is different from that, so we wanted to be able to incorporate this. We wanted to provide pathways for folks who wouldn’t usually go to opera. Hopefully, we have produced a work still with enough operatic integrity to hold water as an operatic piece.
TCI: This is a new Australian opera cabaret. Do you think there is a strong market and culture for investing in Australian artists in Brisbane?
CB: I think there are several folk who’ve been doing very strong works based in Brisbane, not least the great Todd Macdonald, who set quite a few things up. I think all around Australia there are arts companies who work very hard to try and encourage new work. Unfortunately, funding not being what it was, it’s harder to get off the ground.
It’s absolutely vital that we tell out own stories. Not just the stories that, once upon a time, we thought were integral to out national identity, but new stories. And, of course, the oldest stories of all, indigenous stories, which we haven’t been very good at telling in the past. All of these are part of what we need to be incorporating into our cultural diet, and I think companies like Opera Queensland, Victorian Opera and theatrical companies are really leading the charge.
TCI: The premiere of Lorelei in Melbourne was sold out last year. What are your hopes for the Brisbane show?
CB:I just hope that it does justice to the work that Sarah and Marg and Damien and everyone involved with the original production have put in. I know that Opera Queensland have been very devoted to seeing it realised up there. My hope is that the audience go along, and they cheer and they gasp and hear some beautiful music and have a lovely time.
TCI: What else is on your horizon for 2020?
CB: I’m writing a musical at the moment with theatrical writing team called Sisters Grimm. Sisters Grimm usually do non-musical plays, so it’s new territory for all of us. It’s on at the Hayes Theatre in Sydney, in August. Once again, we’re doing that cross-mangling of worlds, from traditional musicals to other forms. It’s called the Sovereign Wife, and it should be lots of fun.
TCI: What has been the most memorable moment of your career in writing for performance so far?
CB: That’s a tough question. There was a beautiful one just last year. I host a show in Melbourne each year called Show of the Year at the Wheeler Centre, and this year, one of the guests was Paul Kelly. As his contribution to the evening, he played one of my songs from my musical Keating!. To hear one of my songs coming out of the mouth of a childhood idol was a very special moment indeed.
TCI: Any final remarks on Lorelei?
CB: in the end, we worked hard on it and it was one of those cases where, I think, firstly, the contributions of Gill Cosgriff were transformative. And the contributions of Sarah Giles as director were under recognised. I think she asked difficult questions at the right time and her eye on the piece was remarkable. And, obviously, Ali, Antionette and Dimity are brilliant singers. I hope people go along and appreciate the fine work.
Photos: Supplied, Pia Johnson
What: Lorelei, Opera Queensland
When: 27 March to 4 April
Where: Conservatorium Theatre, Southbank, Brisbane
Cost: Tickets from $39
More Info: Opera Queensland Wesbite