Witty feminist telling of Lorelei legend has satirical light touch
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Witty feminist telling of Lorelei legend has satirical light touch

OPERA
Lorelei ★★★★½
Victorian Opera
Malthouse, November 3, 7-10

One of the many reasons Melbourne music-lovers are in debt to Victorian Opera is the company’s proud tradition of commissioning new works by local artists, but perhaps none has hit the mark so powerfully and successfully as its new “opera/cabaret”, Lorelei.

 Dimity Shepherd, Antoinette Halloran, Ali McGregor perform in Victorian Opera’s Lorelei at the Malthouse Theatre.

Dimity Shepherd, Antoinette Halloran, Ali McGregor perform in Victorian Opera’s Lorelei at the Malthouse Theatre.Credit:Pia Johnson

Greeted with a standing ovation at its premiere at the Malthouse Theatre on Saturday, the 75-minute, one-act production worked entertainingly at every level, from conception (by Australian soprano Ali McGregor) to stage production and performance.

It is an anarchic (though very tightly directed) feminist account of the Lorelei legend, sirens who by the beauty of their singing lured sailors on the Rhine to their deaths on the rocks. The sirens gradually realise their murderous pursuits stem from socially determined oppression, and try to break free (removing their platform shoes and rubbing their feet), but it doesn’t end well.

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Dimity Shepherd

Dimity Shepherd Credit:Pia Johnson

The music – a lively and sometimes lovely eclectic combination of classical, Latin and pop, with a debt to Kurt Weill and Weimar cabaret – is by Julian Langdon with Casey Bennetto and Gillian Cosgriff. The latter two are responsible for the sly and witty script, crackling with clever puns and allusions.
There are three Loreleis, mezzo Dimity Shepherd and sopranos Ali McGregor and Antoinette Halloran, and each is compelling – as a siren, as a singer, as a woman – with Shepherd slightly in front as most accomplished. The three voices blended beautifully.

The clever production (Sarah Giles director, Marg Horwell sets and costume, Paul Jackson lighting) highlights the cabaret dimension, and never takes itself seriously. Even when the words are poignant, the singers are winking or parodying themselves.

The action takes place in three equal-sized boxes, one for each extravagantly and glamorously dressed Lorelei, as the Rhine ripples alluringly in the orchestra. Gradually the Loreleis mingle, then shed their inhibitions and their clothes (coarse language warning).

The 12-member orchestra played stylishly under the skilful leadership of conductor Phoebe Briggs, who was sensitive to her singers and kept the action moving satisfyingly swiftly.

In all, a highly entertaining evening with a social message that could be tedious but never is because of the satirical light hand with which it is delivered.