By Izabela Barakovska
“I’m a fool, I’m a fool, but I love her still. If she won’t make me happy, nothing will.”
After enduring a day-long migraine, nothing could have been more welcome than sitting in a dark room with beautiful acoustics, listening to the kind of music that reminds you of the delicacy, intricacy, and sheer, profound power of the Arts.
Love and Lockdown: A Pastiche Opera was performed at the hallowed halls of Hackett Hall at the WA Museum Boola Bardip, on various elevations and under the hanging skeleton of a blue whale lit by orange and green light.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a pastiche opera is a work composed of a mixture of already existing pieces that was introduced as “as a quick and easy way to produce new works, but eventually became a prestigious staple of eighteenth-century European opera houses” (WA Museum).
The performance followed the lives of people in three homes under lockdown – a single woman, a pair where one faced the unrequited love of the other, and a couple with a mother sick from COVID-19. These three sets of characters stood on neighbouring balconies (literally, standing on the elevation in Hackett Hall) interconnected in their dialogue but separated by the bounds of quarantine.
The orchestra and its accompanying opera singers sat in the centre of – and beneath – the ‘U-shaped’ elevation facing the audience, who were immediately enchanted by the transformation of the hall into a setting fit for theatre.
The costuming was simple with the casual clothing and pyjamas that all who have lived through lockdowns are all too familiar with, which gave spotlight to the intricacy of the music, poetry, and singing alike.
“In Love and Lockdown, librettist Catherine Noske relocates Baroque Italian arias to the balconies of the COVID pandemic. Centuries-old arias by Handel, Monteverdi, Strozzi, and others about love, loss, and the power of music take on new meaning as the occupants of three balconies negotiate life in lockdown.
This world premiere dramatised concert performance [featured] the UWA Irwin Street Collective chamber orchestra, led by Shaun Lee-Chen, and singers and actors from the UWA Conservatorium of Music vocal program and English and Literary Studies.” – WA Museum
What I truly enjoyed about the performance, was the skillful way the balcony motif and the tradition of Opera was inverted to the highly topical realities of COVID-19, uniting a classic art form with a context highly relatable to both those who do – or like myself, do not – have an in depth understanding of music and composition.
The pieces that were played and sung between the emotive, humorous, charming and relatable exchanges from the characters were bold, emotionally captivating, and transformative. With music by George Frideric Handel, Claudio Monteverdi, Alessandro Stradella, Barbara Strozzi, Georg Philipp Telemann, and Antonio Vivaldi, it’s hard not to think that you’re in the middle of some spectacular theatre in central Europe.
My personal favourites were “Un cenno leggiadretto” from Serse (1738), sung by Rachael Liu, soprano, and “Semplicetto a donna credi” from Alcina (1735), sung by Wilson Kang, tenor.
Both were incredibly powerful, emotive, and skillful pieces. You’d almost believe these were arias sung by professionals that had been singing for decades.
As a lover of the arts in all forms – art, architecture, music, dance, design, and all that falls between – I have been deeply impressed by the creativity of these industries during these ‘unprecedented times’ to innovate the Arts to be more accessible than ever before.
From virtual museums and galleries, to live streamed performances – we have seen a great change in what some may view as the ‘othering’ of art. I believe now, more than ever, art is being seen as for people, by people, regardless of the depth of your understanding and interest.
There is an indescribable magic to craning your neck back slowly to take in the sheer grandeur of the shadows created by the illuminated hanging whale of Hackett Hall – and to do so to the melodies of a live, word class symphony orchestra.
The crowd, made up of the young and old – the supportive friends, proud parents, local music experts and lovers of the arts – undoubtedly shared that feeling given the lengthy, invigorated applause that met the artists at the show’s end.
“Love and Lockdown was incredibly innovative, I was amazed at how Baroque repertoire from centuries ago could be so prevalent to the modern-day trials of COVID-19 and lockdown! It was eye-opening how the music still had the same emotional impact on the audiences today as it would have centuries ago. I loved how every piece in the pastiche was perfectly curated for the storyline, but at the same time was carefully selected for the respective ranges and styles of each individual singer that performed.
Performing Baroque repertoire within such a unique, modern-day storyline not only allowed me to further realise the beauty of Baroque music, but it also allowed me to truly understand how powerful music is – all music from all contexts are just as prevalent as each other, at any point in the timeline. “Music has no boundaries” is such a cliché statement I have heard so many times before, but I felt like I had finally really understood and experienced it firsthand through Love and Lockdown.”
– Karen Matoba, violinist for the UWA Conservatorium of Music Chamber Orchestra, Music Double Major student of the University of Western Australia
The operatic pieces themselves were of such power, expertise, and grace, where even though they were sung in a romance language beyond my understanding, I was still covered in goosebumps head to toe – fully moved, and at times emotional.
And as Karen beautifully pointed to, music has been for many, a lullaby of coping mechanisms throughout the mundane war and peace experienced by the world over these last few years.
“It’s been Facebook and sourdough as far as the eye can see, but tomorrow, oh tomorrow, it’ll be a whaling time for me” – Love and Lockdown.
This in its simplest form, highlights the power of music to communicate across genres, ages, languages, cultures, nations and time – it’s something you don’t need to see to understand, but actually, something you can feel without needing to understand at all.
Libretto by Catherine Noske
Music by George Frideric Handel, Claudio Monteverdi, Alessandro Stradella, Barbara Strozzi, Georg Philipp Telemann, and Antonio Vivaldo