XXXX-rated Australian opera 'Bliss' comes to Edinburgh Festival

AN Aussie accent comes to the Edinburgh International Festival this year – along with the kind of language you don't usually hear in an opera house.

• Peter Coleman-Wright (Harry Joy) in Opera Australia's 'Bliss'

The Scotsman can reveal the new Australian opera, Bliss, will today be revealed as one of the key performances at this year's event.

Bliss, adapted from Peter Carey's 1981 novel of the same name, tells the lurid story of Harry Joy, an advertising executive who survives a near-death experience only to wake up in his own private version of Hell.

His wife is having an affair and his son is dealing drugs, while his daughter is selling her body for them. The story would, perhaps, drive anyone to reach for a few choice Australian epithets and the opera is thought to be the first example of the artform to use expressions like "stick it up your a***" and "drongo".

The radical new production – which stars Australian opera singer Peter Coleman-Wright – brought repeated standing ovations at its Australian premiere earlier this month, with the hope it will claim the title of the first "great Australian opera", in a genre usually dominated by names like Mozart or Puccini.

The producers at Opera Australia, the national company based in Sydney, are delighted it is getting a major international platform in Edinburgh, where it will play for just two nights at the Festival Theatre this August.

The full programme of the EIF is unveiled by the event's Australian director, Jonathan Mills, this morning.

While the line-up is traditionally kept wrapped in secrecy, the dates for Bliss in Edinburgh have leaked to the Australian press.

Sydney-born Mills has imported the work of several Australian companies since taking over in 2007, and this year's programme explores broader links to "new world" countries.

Earlier this month, the cream of Australian politics and the arts turned out for the opening night at the Sydney Opera House of a production that was nine years in the making. The entire action plays out in a box where the walls are LED advertising screens that change constantly.

The opera's composer, Dean Brett, is a past winner of what is called music's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, the American Grawemeyer Award for composition.

The production's librettist, Amanda Holden, won praise for "poetic text" called "an eloquent distillation of everyday speech."

Bliss, set in Brisbane, was made into a film in 1985. The opera's director, Neil Armfield, said neither fans of the novel nor the film would know what to expect. "It's probably the first opera in which 'stick it up your a***' has been sung," he said.

Mr Coleman-Wright told the Australian media it would show off a different side of the country's culture to the rest of the world.

He said: "It's not another excuse for 'put another prawn on the barbie' and all that sort of rubbish that people identify us with. I think they'll suddenly see that we have something else to say."

Opera Australia warned audiences the show has "coarse language, scenes of a graphic sexual nature, and adult themes" and was not suitable for children.

What the critics said . .

The following are reviews of Bliss from the Australian press.

Murray Black, The Australian

The premiere of Australian composer Brett Dean's version of Bliss was bound to provoke intense interest. It promised to be an important landmark in contemporary Australian classical music.

Opera Australia has sometimes been criticised for neglecting new Australian operas. But not this time. Although the project outlasted two musical directors, the company continued to devote considerable resources to bringing the opera to fruition.

Was it worth it? The answer is an unequivocal yes. A coalescence of Australian artistic talent has created a compelling opera. Bliss was performed with an assurance and confidence that is rare on any opening night …

Peter McCallum, The Sydney Morning Herald

Bliss is a significant work. The sung lines drive the musical and dramatic pace, underscored by beautifully detailed instrumental textures, wrought with an innate feeling for the expressive power of instrumental timbre, watched over by counterpoint and fine motivic workmanship.

The success of Bliss is due to many creative imaginations, whose anti-heroic dystopian character may well turn out to have captured something distinctly Australian.


To help confused opera-lovers cope with the finer points of Australian slang, here is a rough guide …

Drongo: a dope, stupid person

Illywhacker: a country fair con-man, trickster, or seller of quack medicines

Barbie: barbecue

Billabong: watering hole

Bogan: slacker, drinker, Ned

Cobber: friend

Kangaroos loose in the top paddock: intellectually inadequate

Piker: someone who refuses to fit in, leaves parties early

Pozz: position, get a good pozzy at the football stadium

Pommy shower: using deodorant instead of taking a shower

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