By Margaret Wieringa
We all have them – those friends from our past that we see rarely, perhaps catch up with once in a while for a drunken dinner and then go our separate ways. Now, there’s an opera about them! This group of four uni friends meet yearly for a meal at one of their old uni haunts, but this year there is a challenge – each must tell a secret from their past, something no-one else knows.
This show took me across the spectrum of enjoyment – parts of it I severely disliked and others I thoroughly enjoyed. What a challenge! I liked the concept; a group of friends forced to really reach deep and reveal their darkness. But I struggled to really buy it. Whether it was that they went very deep very quickly, or perhaps it was that after the big reveals, there was only a tiny acknowledgement that the other characters had a response before they seemed to be acting like everything was just dandy. It didn’t feel… honest. I know opera is over the top and the concept of huge revelations allowed for some melodrama, but the whole concept begged honest responses, not fleeting moments of truth.
The music was beautiful – Paul Grabowski and the Banquet of Secrets band were onstage and their subtle presence was a contrast to the ever-changing images that played on a huge screen above the dinner table. The screen was another thing I both enjoyed and disliked – it worked well for images of the mouth-watering food (don’t miss the magnificently absurd menu in the program) – yet some of the other images that crossed it were twee and annoying.
Despite my criticism of the character responses earlier, I felt that the cast generally worked very well. I felt that the characters were quite insufferable with their self-aware mocking and clichéd comments, but I felt they were quite relatable. For me, while it was a strong ensemble performance, Antoinette Halloran outshone as Mia. Her powerful voice captured the strength and confidence of the character, yet was easily able to bring the audience on the emotional journey of Mia as she relieved the past, and reflected on the consequence of her actions. And the comic turn of Michael Carman as the waiter cannot be ignored – thanks to librettist Steve Vizard for throwing a wink to the great clowning characters of the past.
If you like opera, and you want to see something a bit different, go. But make sure you’ve eaten first – you don’t want your stomach rumbling heard over the music!
Where: Arts Centre Playhouse
When: March 1-5, 7:30pm (1pm matinee on Saturday)
Tickets: $40 – $120, depending on seating.
Bookings: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/opera/banquet-of-secrets or call 1300 822 849