Boring? Yes. Pretentious? Maybe. Before seeing The Riders, that’s how I would have summed up my thoughts on opera. Now, I can’t wait to see the Western Australian Opera perform again, and I’ll give you the play-by-play that led to this turnaround.
It was a humid Wednesday night, and there was a buzz of excitement in the foyer of His Majesty’s Theatre. The crowd had come to see a uniquely Western Australian opera, based on Tim Winton’s novel of the same name.
I was a little under-dressed, surrounded by patrons in black tie and their finest frocks, but a red wine at the bar steadied me. I took my seat as the lights lowered, and a loud applause greeted James Clayton performing as Scully. From the moment the orchestra started playing, I was hooked. Composer Iain Grandage and librettist Alison Croggon transformed Winton’s tale into an engaging three act work. Revolving around Scully’s relationship with his wife Jennifer, sung by soprano Emma Pearson, the opera explores their estranged relationship.
The likeable Scully is a prisoner to his stunted emotional growth, and Jennifer feels like a prisoner to her husband, tethered to him as if he were a weight dragging her down. When Jennifer fails to meet Scully in Ireland as planned, he begins a desperate search across Europe to find her. Caught in the midst of this conflict is the couple’s daughter Billie, played by 15-year-old Rosanna Radici, who is both victim and unintentional antagonist.
Grandage’s music captured the heart-wrenching urgency and turbulence of Scully’s physical and emotional journey. It traversed a range of styles, from bird song to music hall, with a further smattering of folk song. This was complimented by the simplicity of the set and its revolving stage, which allowed you to believe that Scully and Billie were truly wandering the globe in their search for Jennifer (without them ever really crossing the stage).
If I had one criticism, it would be that the show dragged on slightly too long; however the tender conclusion provides the audience with a sense of closure and relief.
Engaging? Yes. Enchanting? Absolutely.
Words by Nicholas Monisse
The Riders ran at His Majesty’s Theatre 13-16 April.