After the Opera

It has been just over a month now since my latest opera Ned Kelly premiered at the Perth Festival. The opera was commissioned by Lost and Found Opera, who I can’t thank enough for giving me the chance to write this major Australian work and for doing such a great job bringing together a fantastic cast, orchestra and production.

The critics were very kind, I have lots of quotes and photos on another page, but here is a quick sample.

a solid, gripping production, mostly because the music and performances are terrific...This Ned has the potential to become a transcendent stage figure, a deeper wellspring of flawed Australian masculinity – hero, myth or otherwise. - The Guardian

The folk sweetness was darkened by Britten-esque orchestral dissonance with added bush flavourings from an onstage folk band, rattled gum leaves and metallic percussion. Styles shaped the drama with moments of stillness and explosions of energy. - The Australian

The whole experience of being part of an opera production, the rehearsals and then the performances is quite an emotional rollercoaster, especially when it’s your own work coming to life for the first time. There are many many moving parts and the artistry of a large number of people is required, all striving towards a common goal, or at least a good performance. The team were first class, I can’t name everyone but a huge thanks to Conductor: Chris van Tuinen. Director: Janice Muller. Cast: Samuel Dundas, Fiona Campbell, Adrian Tamburini, Matt Reuben James Ward, Robert MacFarlane, Pia Harris, Community Chorus. Orchestra: West Australian Symphony Orchestra. All of whom were fantastic. I can’t forget the librettist Peter Goldsworthy, his words were a true gift.

We built the work bit by bit with the core cast of 6 in a rehearsal room at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth (which is a fantastic space, home of WA Opera) and our répétiteur Aidan Boase did a phenomenal job of bringing the orchestral colours into the rehearsal room, as well as being a solid rock of dependability. My image of the opera is that it starts with intense activity, lots of lines interweaving, different characters, ideas, motivations and impulses are all intermingling, with some recurrent and stronger dramatic, conceptual and musical themes becoming more dominant over the course of the act. Then in act 2 we enter weird town. The music changes, there is more stillness, contrasts, strange dressing up, the atmosphere is charged and we move forward and back in time, playing with peoples memories of events, which have become clouded and forged by emotion. Then in act 3 there is a strong sense of being on an out of control train steaming towards a catastrophic event, this being the conflict between the Kelly Gang and the police, resulting in death and the emergence of an Australian icon and mythology.

The cast gave their all and I am truly indebted to each of them. The conductor and artistic director of Lost and Found opera, Chris van Tuinen, did a stellar job and brought together not only cast and orchestra but community chorus and folk band as well. As you can see the opera has a rich mix of musical strands as part of its story telling.

Luckily there will be a chance to share the opera with a much wider international audience soon. After the 4 performances we went into the ABC studios in Perth and recorded the whole opera. It was a complete dream to be in a proper studio to hear the opera in an ideal acoustic, all the parts came together clearly and it was a very exciting experience. I have just had a taster of the first edits and I’m very pleased, especially with the bush sounds in the Stringy Bark Creek scene, when the aesthetic of the work delves into completely pitchless material and also the groove in some of the original folk songs I composed really started to click together in the studio.

I’ll check in again when the ABC broadcast is live and also to muse on current projects and new directions.

Luke Styles