The empty seats after interval and the lukewarm response at the end said it all: the opening night of Bliss was an underwhelming success. Australia’s newest opera, with music by local boy Brett Dean, didn’t exactly slay them in the aisles. Based on the novel by another Oz wunderkind, Peter Carey, the opera is a marvel of staging, a showpiece for the orchestra and a collection of bravura performances by individuals and chorus alike. But the totality fails to enthuse or enthrall. Two and a half hours of atonal music played at full pitch and volume eventually grates rather than grabs. The singing likewise seems to be forever at screaming pitch, with little light and shade; even in the rare tender moments.
The biggest failing, however, is that it is hard to find much empathy with, or sympathy for, the main protagonists. Even Harry Joy, who seeks redemption after a near death experience, fails to win our hearts. He’s just another opportunist ad man who seeks an easy way out by falling in love with a hooker. And his wife, son, daughter and business associates are simply a bunch of unlikeable sleazebags. The family name is the only joyful thing. Peter Coleman-Wright is superb in the lead role and there are stand-out performances by Merlyn Quaife, Barry Ryan, Kanen Breen and Lorina Gore.
The set deserves to take a bow: the three sides of the stage are an array of hundreds of light globes continually changing colour, pattern and wording to immense effect.
An interesting night and all praise to all those involved in bringing this huge creative undertaking to fruition. Go, see and be proud of the talent it showcases. But don’t expect to remember a single note.