Tag Archives: Chamber Made Opera

Another Other: A self-fulfilling prophecy about the death of art

Image 1_Chamber Made Opera –Another Other_Caption – Erkki Veltheim, Sabina Maselli, Natasha Anderson and Anthony Pateras_Credit – Jeff Busby.jpg
Erkki Veltheim, Sabina Maselli, Natasha Anderson and Anthony Pateras in Another Other. Photo by Jeff Busby

Waiting in line at the North Melbourne Meat Market, I spot the corpse. A humanoid shape lies wrapped in black plastic bags. The sound of clocks (or are they shovels?) emanate from it. A program essay by Ben Byrne tells us it is the body of art. He quotes Ingmar Bergman (The Snakeskin, 1965) who claims that art is basically unimportant, deprived of its traditional social value. Like a snakeskin full of ants, art is convulsed with the efforts of millions of individual artists. Each artist, including Bergman himself, is elbowing the others “in selfish fellowship,” in pursuit of their own insatiable curiosity. To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Bergman’s film Persona, Natasha Anderson, Sabina Maselli, Anthony Pateras, and Erkki Veltheim have crawled inside the film’s 79-minute skin.

The four artists sit facing each other beneath red digital clocks counting down the opera’s duration. Pateras works his Revox B77: a machine with a loop of tape and multiple heads that can be manipulated live to produce a stunning array of sounds. Veltheim nurses his violin, which he processes through a laptop running  MaxMSP. Natasha Anderson festoons her Paetzold contrabass recorder with an array of sensors and microphones. Sabina Maselli commands an arsenal of projectors and spotlights, including reels of custom-shot 16mm film.

Once inside the film’s skin, the collaborators throw out its organs of character and plot. The artists instead motivate its mise-en-scène. Maselli’s deeply-textured footage of hands, faces, and landscapes mirror Bergman’s own sumptuous images. The close-miked sounds of violin, recorder, and water echo the conspicuous detail of 1960s foley. Spoken text references monologues in the film, notably Alma’s story of a foursome on a beach. And so the ideas cycle: hands—faces—landscapes—text, interspersed with solo episodes for each performer, until the time runs out.

Image 2_Chamber Made Opera –Another Other_Caption – Anthony Pateras and Erkki Veltheim_Credit – Jeff Busby.jpg
Comparing hands. Don’t they know it’s bad luck? Photo by Jeff Busby

After the third extended shot of intertwined hands, I wondered whether the artists were labouring under a category mistake. Texture and materiality were the bread and butter of contemporary arts throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but the structures of plot and character are surely now considered as much part of the artistic “surface” than image and sound. Thanks to the fashion of basing new music on old films, there are counterexamples. For instance, Alex Garsden’s Messages to Erice I & II, which uses the familial relationships of the characters in Víctor Erice’s 1973 film El Spíritu del Colmena to structure the algorithmic relationships of four amplified tam-tams.

By throwing out plot and character, the creators of Another Other struggle to address the original film’s themes of identity, motherhood, art, and being. The film’s iconic shot of Elisabet and Alma’s juxtaposed faces is critical of traditional gender roles precisely because the characters struggle with those roles. The repeated superimposition of the artists’ faces in Another Other is less critical than narcissistic.

While stating that art’s traditional social function is dead, Bergman’s essay affirms the personal significance of art, a belief that is reflected in Elisabet’s first scene in Persona. Elisabet is an actress who stops speaking because she harbours a burning will to live authentically and shake off the role of motherhood. She laughs at a radio soap but seems affected by a piece of music. In Another Other no such distinction is made between inauthentic and personally authentic art. Veltheim plays the Chaconne from J.S. Bach’s violin Partita no. 2 while the artists’ faces are shown through a day-time soap vaseline lens. I will accept that universally authentic art is impossible, but I struggled to find even an affirmation of personally authentic art in Another Other. Unsure of the artists’ belief in their own work, I failed to commit as an audience member.

After fifty minutes I even started believing that art was dead. Thanks to the clocks high above the stage I could regret every minute left. The saddest thing was that I respect the work of each artist in their own right. But four good artists in a box does not an opera make. At the end of Another Other the artists imagine a different ending to the film. The doctor says that Elisabet’s silence was just another role that she sloughed off in the end, not a real existential crisis. She was perhaps also depressed and infantile. The doctor concludes “But perhaps you have to be infantile to be an artist in an age such as this.” I laughed. It made me particularly glad I trusted them with an hour and a half of my life.

Another Other
Chamber Made Opera
Meat Market
18 February 2016
Natasha Anderson, Sabina Maselli, Anthony Pateras, Erkki Veltheim.

Turbulence: Responses in poetry and video

In 2013, I reviewed Juliana Hodkinson’s new Living Room Opera Turbulence. Staged in a small apartment in Melbourne, the opera explored the claustrophobic magic of air travel and familial relationships. The compact work has since taken flight in the form of two artistic responses. Peter Humble and Linda Edorsson have produced a beautiful video based on the opera, which has been published in the digital magazine LIGE. Meanwhile, the poet David Maney has written a perceptive poetic response, which he has kindly allowed me to post below. Check out the video, read the response, and enjoy.


Chamber Made Opera: Turbulence

Anneli Bjorasen in Turbulence. Photo by David Young
Anneli Bjorasen in Turbulence. Photo by David Young

Chamber Made Opera
Composed by Juliana Hodkinson
Libretto by Cynthia Troup
Melbourne Festival of the Arts
A living room in Northcote

Despite being the closest any of us will come to experiencing a miracle, air travel is marked by boredom and sustained physical discomfort. With its staging of the explosive relationship between a mother and daughter in an apartment only wide enough for five seats and an airline trolley, Chamber Made Opera’s latest Living Room Opera Turbulence explores this banal sort of magic that frames and controls our lives. Composed by Juliana Hodkinson and featuring the versatile voices of Deborah Kayser and Anneli Bjorasen (in her first Chamber Made Opera role), the work is a “first” several times over for the company in its 25th year.

A row of fans along one wall generates a drafty hum that is amplified into an ambient drone by Jethro Woodward’s ever-understated sound design. The audience take their seats, the front row facing a white wall. I wondered where the performance would take place until Bjorasen began to hum, “pshh” and “khh” like the pneumatics of an aircraft beside me. This opening is the first duration piece that I have experienced in a Living Room Opera, providing a welcome contrast to the enchanting kaleidoscopism of previous works. It is also the best environment in which to hear Woodward’s minute control of transparent textures, even in a sound world as saturated as a series of amplified fans. Kayser and Bjorasen’s stereophonic sound effects were a delight, making the central seats the best in the house.

Other sounds endemic to airplanes begin to fill the cabin, such as a baby crying (live and recorded), 1950s cabin announcements and Bjorasen struggling with a packet of nuts. Bjorasen leans as the plane banks to the right, leaving me in an awkward position for several minutes.

Against this background of whirrs, cries and muffled announcements, the opera continues as a duet between mother (Kayser) and daughter (Bjorasen). The couple share text drawn from academic literature on turbulence, the mother singing graciously against a Pocket Piano synthesiser and the daughter growling impetuously into a vintage microphone. The texts provide an underlying theme of chaos and order, along with the observation that “normal times are when disorder wins.” But the opera is set in the 1950s, shortly after the dawn of commercial passenger aviation. Air travel is now more common and accessible than ever before and the world is on average half a degree warmer. We are now faced with the task of explaining the workings of the reading lights and seat levers inside the cabin rather than the turbulent air outside: Why in fact do things work the way they do and why is it so difficult to change our orderly progression towards ecological disaster? Faced with the desertion of our future, are we condemned to sing a solo aria, as does the Kayser when her daughter walks out on her, reminiscing about a “sea as blue as a baby’s eye?” With the sensitivity and warmth of her voice, which it is worth the ticket price just to hear up close, you could imagine Kayser was lamenting the loss of oceans.

As well as introducing a new performer and a new style of chamber opera to Chamber Made fans, the opera is the first Living Room Opera under the new Creative Director Tim Stitz, who made everybody feel welcome before and after the show with a pre-flight talk and post-flight refreshment. Most importantly, Turbulence is the first Living Room Opera to fulfill the company’s claim that the series need not only take place in opulent  living rooms of the Eastern Suburbs. The space is perfectly suited to the opera, or the opera to the space, revealing the incredible power of chamber opera to unite disparate environments through artistic aims.

Turbulence runs until 12 October.