Malthouse, October 25, 26 and 27
Opera Australia’s new account of Brian Howard’s 1983 opera Metamorphosis, based on the famous Kafka novella, is stunning. Imaginative, engrossing and beautifully performed, it chillingly portrays the psychological disintegration and alienation of Gregor Samsa and the journey to callous disregard of his once-loving family.
The triumph belongs to everybody involved, but especially to director Tama Matheson for his wonderful vision, the gritty and effective set by Mark Thompson, John Rayment's striking lighting, and the sensitive musical direction of conductor Paul Fitzsimon, who builds and releases tension brilliantly.
Above all, credit goes to baritone Simon Lobelson in his tour de force as the unfortunate Gregor, who wakes up one day as a giant insect. Part gymnast – crawling across the roof of the set, swinging and singing upside down from the chandelier – part actor and constantly engaged singer, he meets every challenge with panache. When he waves his legs, he is exactly like a beetle helpless on its back.
The four main singers – Lobelson, Christopher Hillier as the father, Taryn Fiebig as the mother, and Julie Lea Goodwin as Gregor’s sister – are excellent, with great clarity and conviction. Throughout the production (without interval), each has to concentrate fiercely to satisfy the dramatic and vocal requirements. The 12 musicians from Orchestra Victoria share the high standard.
The production opens with the whole cast flapping ludicrously at insects projected on the walls, before offering one of literature’s most famous opening lines: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
The Malthouse is an excellent venue for this production, highlighting both the intimacy and intensity of this chamber opera by Howard (music) and Steven Berkoff (libretto). It requires formidable concentration not just from the cast but the audience too. They are ultimately rewarded.