‘It’s right in the zeitgeist’: The genesis of Lorelei

4 Oct 2018

The creative team of Lorelei explains the idea behind this new Australian operatic cabaret which rewrites the siren myth for modern women.

The cast and creative team of Lorelei. Photo: Beata Bowes

Lorelei is the brain child of Australian soprano and cabaret star Ali McGregor. She has been intrigued by the story of Lorelei ever since university where she studied a lot of lieder and the German myth kept coming up. Fast-forward to 2005, when Ali joined forces with Dimity Shepherd and Antoinette Halloran to create The Opera Burlesque, a pastiche of opera arias and pop songs that made opera sexy.

Lorelei reunites the three Australian singers for a work that combines opera, cabaret and literature. It rewrites the myth of an irresistible woman who plummeted to her death off a rock on the banks of the River Rhine and was transformed into a seductive siren who lures sailors to their deaths. The operatic cabaret explores how this ancient myth relates to our modern idea of feminism.

‘Over the years it has occurred to me that there is this theme throughout literature, and especially in opera, of women not having their own agency. Quite often women’s sensuality is blamed for men’s weakness,’ says Ali McGregor.

Ali discovered composer Julian Langdon when she came to see Victorian Opera’s Seven Deadly Sins and was struck by the two movements composed by him. For the libretto, Casey Bennetto and Gillian Cosgriff’s credentials in the musical theatre world made them obvious candidates. Casey wrote the hit musical Keating! and Gillian is known for her unique style of musical comedy. The final piece of the puzzle was a ‘bad-ass female director’ and Sarah Giles was the name that kept coming up.

Gillian Cosgriff and Casey Bennetto. Photo: Beata Bowes

This timely collaboration comes during a period where society at large is reassessing many assumptions around women, their stories and their relationship to men. As Ali says, ‘It’s right in the zeitgeist’.

Gillian Cosgriff explains, ‘A lot of things are changing but also not changing. It’s this series of revelations that are almost the same revelation we’ve been having for years just with a slightly different take on it. A new hashtag, if you will.’

‘There’s a connection to literature which is useful in terms of asking what kind of stories we are used to hearing, what sort of characters we are used to seeing, and how all this relates to feminism,’ adds director Sarah Giles. ‘We all talk about Me Too and everything, but sometimes as a broader society we don’t ask what it means for a generation of girls to grow up and not see themselves portrayed on stage in a particular way. And what it means for men as well.’

The three leading ladies go way back, having performed together over many years and are good friends off the stage. Dimity Shepherd says, ‘We’ve been on an artistic journey together for a long time and we’ve grown as women during that time. We’ve gone through different stages of our lives and this piece says something that I want to say as a woman now.’

Dimity Shepherd, Ali McGregor and Antoinette Halloran workshopping Lorelei. Photo: Beata Bowes

They think of themselves like an old rock band that’s been through so much together that they have no problems telling each other what they think.

‘The three of us have always known we can share stuff with each other without fear of judgement,’ says Ali. ‘In the rehearsal room there is the freedom to explore and the freedom to fail, which can be scary but can lead to great creativity.’

You can expect magic when these three get together. Dimity says, ‘We understand each other as performers now very well. That’s really special. There’s an amazing energy when the three of us are on stage.’

With so much savvy Australian talent behind it, audiences can expect a modern work that is entertaining, as well as challenging what we expect from opera and women’s roles. As Ali says, ‘Maybe, just maybe, we won’t all die at the end’.

Victorian Opera performs Lorelei on 29 June - 2 July at Palais Theatre, St Kilda