Reviews: Four Saints in Three Acts

1 Nov 2016

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Victorian Opera’s production of Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson’s joyously zany opera, Four Saints in Three Acts, enjoyed a sell-out season at Malthouse Theatre in its Australian premiere season. Staged as the company’s annual Youth Opera with a cast of singers aged 15-25, the opera was reimagined by the next generation of talent as well as technology; Deakin Motion.Lab created breathtaking 3D digital scenery drawing from Stein’s wildly nonsensical libretto.

Receiving much critical acclaim, read highlights from the reviews!

'Ambitious project proves heaven sent.'

'Friday's superb performance of this work, first performed in 1934 and seldom staged since, could barely be faulted for its fine musicianship, simple and telling production values (the director was Nancy Black) and, above all, its brilliantly surreal and astonishingly effective 3D projections from the Deakin Motion.Lab Team.'

The Age ★★★★

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'Ever adventurous, Victorian Opera’s latest youth opera project delivers the Australian premiere of an old work with an enduring capacity to confound, amuse, irritate and provoke.'

'The imagery is suitably absurd. A rainbow of fish swirl through the air, a sheep levitates and a lion and gigantic snake wander through landscapes that shift from scenic ruins to arid, apocalyptic tundras. Cathedrals rise and dissolve, while celestial stairways rotate to reveal lines of giant marlin marching on their tailfins.

These Pythonesque fantasy worlds add semblances of scenic progression to a rambling libretto. However expressive power comes with the dramatically suggestive scenarios and blocking that director Nancy Black elicits from the slenderest of clues in Stein’s non sequiturs. Combined with this are nuanced shapings of each musical sample by the talented young cast.

A chamber orchestra conducted by Phoebe Briggs manages the score’s frenetic stylistic modulations admirably, while diction and vocal maturity in both chorus and soloists is exemplary.'

The Australian

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'By God, that Four Saints in Three Acts is good. Nonsense hasn't quite ever left me so entranced and uplifted.'

'Directed by Nancy Black with co-director Dr Kim Vincs, Victorian Opera have indeed blessed composer Virgil Thomson and librettist Gertrude Stein's surrealistic delight with a heavenly theatrical 3-D experience for its overdue Australian premiere.'

'The music resounds with nourishing ecclesiastical simplicity together with folkish tunes at one with the American prairies and a sprinkle of Gilbert and Sullivan seasoning, which conductor Phoebe Briggs lets crisply bounce and ricochet marvellously. The 15-member Victorian Opera Chamber Orchestra glistened on opening night with a richness of sound spreading out far and wide, a sound deceivingly richer and greater than their number.'

'The work's expression through the creativity of theatrical staging is paramount in making it coerce, confront and alter perceptions like few works can and the team at Victorian Opera have once again flexed their inventive muscle to do so. For it, a mesmerising fairytale-like beauty explodes in Deakin Motion.Lab's digital scenography.'

 Opera Chaser

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'Featuring a generous sized ensemble of 45 singers, the company for this youth opera includes young, emerging singers as the cast of Saints and a large chorus of singers primarily sourced from Victorian Opera Youth Chorus Ensemble (VOYCE). The company of young singers is grounded by the mature presence of Jerzy Kozlowski and Margaret Arnold as Compère and Commère. Experienced artists Carlos E. Bárcenas and Raphael Wong bring gravitas and vocal power to the stage.'

'Over and above the unusual libretto and creative imagery, the most striking element of the performance is the sheer beauty of the music. Conductor Phoebe Briggs has prepared and polished the music to a level that allows the young cast and the orchestra of 15 musicians to present the unfamiliar work with great confidence. The choral singing is nothing short of exquisite.'

'Four Saints in Three Acts was a unique experience for performers and audience alike. Victorian Opera is commended for sourcing such interesting material and presenting it to such a high standard. The investment in the future of young singers and musicians is also of the highest merit.'

Simon Parris: Man in Chair

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Four Saints in Three Acts was part of Victorian Opera's Season 2016.