Opera

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Vin­cent Plush

The Rab­bits Kate Miller-Hei­dke, Lally Katz and Iain Grandage ABC Clas­sics Hop, hop, hooray! It’s here, at last. The mu­sicthe­atre piece that charmed au­di­ences at the Perth, Mel­bourne and Syd­ney fes­ti­vals and took four Help­mann Awards last year has emerged from its war­ren. Par­ents through­out this coun­try have long been grate­ful for the haunt­ing chil­dren’s book by John Mars­den with il­lus­tra­tions by Shaun Tan. All hail Opera Aus­tralia’s chief Lyn­don Ter­racini for the in­spired idea of trans­form­ing a vexed tale of coloni­sa­tion and dis­place­ment into a fam­ily opera. A stel­lar cre­ative crew was brought to­gether by theatre di­rec­tor John Sheedy, who adapted the book. Lally Katz cre­ated the li­bretto for gor­geously at­trac­tive new mu­sic by Kate Miller-Hei­dke, as­sisted by the inim­itable or­ches­tral strokes of Iain Grandage. This record­ing was made be­fore a Syd­ney Festival live au­di­ence in Jan­uary 2015 and is sup­ple­mented by a five-minute ex­cerpt per­formed by Miller-Hei­dke and Grandage, des­tined to be a hit tune that will live on the concert plat­form too. De­spite the sprawl­ing scope of the work’s sub­ject mat­ter, these rab­bits and mar­su­pi­als are a mod­estly sized fam­ily, com­pris­ing 12 singer-ac­tors and a band half that num­ber. Michael Hal­li­well’s in­sight­ful book­let notes strug­gle to find a place for The Rab­bits in the re­cent lin­eage of Aus­tralian opera and mu­sic theatre. It’s likely that MillerHei­dke and crew have never heard of Al­bert Arlen or per­haps even the Wes­ley-Smith twins whose Boo­jum! tit­il­lated an Ade­laide Festival three decades ago. Yes, The Rab­bits ad­vances a tra­di­tion of tune­ful ex­plo­rations of Aus­tralian iden­tity that is barely ac­knowl­edged to­day. The mu­sic scur­ries along a war­ren of in­flu­ences, el­e­vated Gil­bert and Sul­li­van, Satie-fied cir­cus mu­sic, mes­meric Sond­heim, cor­us­cat­ing John Adams and a few num­bers of foot-tap­ping funk. Many of this record­ing’s 15 tracks fea­ture the strato­spheric trilling of Miller-Hei­dke, an op­er­at­i­cally trained singer who moves eas­ily be­tween Bris­bane’s Topol­ogy and the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera’s re­cent re­vival of Adams’s The Death of Klinghof­fer. Along­side her com­mand­ing nar­ra­tor-like per­for­mance as Bird, there are out­stand­ing per­for­mances from a num­ber of rab­bits, no­tably Ka­nen Breen as a sci­en­tist who spends much of the hour-long work singing in falsetto. Among the mar­su­pi­als, Mar­cus Corowa and David Leha con­trib­ute mov­ing per­for­mances as the orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants of an an­cient land sud­denly deal­ing with the ar­rival of a strange species, the rab­bits. (Words such as in­va­sion and reconciliation, though on the tip of many lizardly sil­ver­tongues, are stu­diously avoided; these is­sues are ad­dressed in the CD book­let.) In ef­fect, The Rab­bits is a mov­ing al­le­gory of a di­men­sion of Aus­tralian his­tory that is not eas­ily ex­plained to chil­dren. Is there a bet­ter in­tro­duc­tion to a dis­cus­sion around the fam­ily ta­ble of this is­sue? Polemics aside, this is a be­guil­ing hour of fun that re­wards re­peated lis­ten­ing and re­flec­tion.

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