Assembly Hall (Venue 35)
So, squeezed like sardines into the ladies’ loos in the Assembly Hall, an audience of ten become voyeurs watching three women’s lives intersect, their feelings expressed in some of the most beautiful opera music in the world.
First, Sally Alrich-Smyra stumbles in sobbing, examines her bruises in the mirror, counts out a handful of pills and hauntingly sings Dido’s Lament by Purcell. She takes refuge in a stall for the bombastic arrival of Jessica Westcott, newly promoted, with a pair of killer heels to prove it.
Finally, they are joined by Britt Lewis, checking her phone and obsessing over messages from the woman with whom she has just had a date. As their lives briefly collide, they sing arias, duets and trios from the likes of Puccini, Mozart, Bizet and Delibes (Westcott and Lewis’ Flower Duet is a particular highlight).
Director Clemence Williams, with Australian company, Bontom, bring opera up close and personal in all its intensity and beauty in this tiny room, a pianist and a keyboard sandwiched into one corner as live accompaniment. The libretti appear projected on to the ceiling, but the company has to rely on gestures and props to convey the storylines, with mixed success.
But there is something very powerful about taking these women characters out of their usual contexts, in which they are viewed in relation to men, and allowing them to bond in this uniquely female space.
And there is something that rings very true about opera’s big emotions – the losing and finding of love, friendship and rivalry, exultation and despair – being played out in this most private of spaces.