An Index of Metals review: Fausto Romitelli’s music amplified by stage action – Sydney Morning Herald

November 17, 2015

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Sydney Chamber Opera and Ensemble Offspring, Carriageworks, November 16. Until November 19


At first it seemed like a false start – a burst of electronic sound and light that suddenly collapsed as though the power had failed.

But as the gesture was repeated and enlarged the brief moment of “collapse” established itself as the first of many distinctive gestures. It became, in one sense, a microcosm of the whole work; an “hour-long crescendo to annihilation” as conductor Jack Symonds puts it.

Fausto Romitelli’s An Index of Metals was originally a song-cycle for instruments and electronic sounds and video.

Director Kip Williams has used the music as a narrative scenario, from which non-specific stage action is generated to amplify the music’s assertive attitude and mould a compelling sense of direction.

Romitelli’s music is a brilliantly intense melange drawn from multiple reference points – recorded sounds, effervescently chaotic modernism, natural burbling, caressing tunes, and the grunge and distortion of electric guitars.

Behind it all is a sense of expressive fierceness and determination, an angry young composer’s musical push to drive through layers of convention to find truth in desolation.

Williams picks up this implacable tone with stark, slow-moving and repeating gestures that echo, in eerie tranquillity, the music’s characteristic mode of development.

The blazing banks of light from designer Elizabeth Gadsby and Ross Graham’s impressive “cube of light” glowed like a hundred stacked headlights, filling out the space in a way that leaves the singer and actors starkly isolated.

Soprano Jane Sheldon delivers a brilliant tour de force in the only singing role, bringing strength and gleaming purity to each of the varied four songs, chiselling out beams of vocal colour to the light rays cutting the air.

Around her roam six “Brads”, completely naked and apparently the target of her resentment. The scenario takes its cue from a quotation in Kenka Lekovich’s text of Roy Lichtenstein’s famous image: “I’d rather drown than call Brad for help”.

Like the light, the music blazes and blares and with a rising intensity that could easily have become a shapeless thrash were it not for the subtlety with which Williams and Symonds managed the gradations of anarchy, and the clarity and care of Rob Scott’s sound projection.

Ensemble Offspring played this bold combative score with intensity and energy. This is audacious, arresting and original work of the sort we have come to expect from these artists even as they retain the capacity to surprise.