It's been a number of years since I've seen an opera by Lyric Opera and there is great anticipation as to not only what story they choose to tell with each production but also the innovation and the uniqueness in which they will present it, and Iphis is no exception.
Running at just 70 minutes, this is a short opera but there is much that is covered in Iphis, beginning with Telethusa going through labour (and what a memorable labour it is) as her husband, Lidgus, eagerly awaits the arrival of a son. However, Telethusa gives birth to a girl and in order to protect her child (and herself) from her husband's wrath, secretly raises Iphis as a boy. Fast forward a decade or two and Lidgus is preparing to marry Iphis off to Ianthe, which introduces various issues around gender, identity and relationships.Written by Elena Kats-Chernin in 1997, it's interesting how the same themes and questions are still so prevalent 25 years later and these complex emotions are cleverly addressed while retaining a great sense of humour to the story. Director Katy Maudlin maintains this balance in the performances by the cast, with brilliant comic work by Douglas Kelly as the buffoon father, and Timothy Daly and Troy Castle as the two Gods, and the deeper emotional work coming from Morgan Carter (Iphis), Nicole Wallace (Telethusa) and Breanna Stuart as Iphis' love interest Ianthe. It's a highly talented mix of established and emerging opera singers.
Lyric Opera's Artistic Director and conductor, Patrick Burns, brings the music to life with a nine-piece orchestra that play a variety of musical styles and sounds, including cabaret, klezmer and romanticism. While there are a few instances where the narrative stalls, such as the overly long depiction of Iphis' tutoring and education, the music is a constant surprise that keeps to the heart of the story.
Brynna Lowen's gorgeous set design conveys the wealth and aristocracy that this family possesses, with lavish pink curtains running along the back of the stage and a bed with an extravagant frame adorned with numerous sheets, pillows and candles. The lighting by Richard Vabre further highlights this life of excess as it reveals the thoughts and feelings of the characters and reinforces the tone of the opera.
With fewer than 5% of works presented by Melbourne funded opera companies written by women over the past five years, it's no coincidence that Iphis is written by a woman. Lyric Opera will always be known for telling the stories that don't get told in the traditional opera world, and with Iphis it makes it easy for people to get excited over opera. It is a bold and inventive production that leaves its audience with plenty to think about and plenty to appreciate.
Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland St, St Kilda
Season: Until 3 September | Tues - Sat 7:30pm
Duration: 75 minutes
Tickets: $57.50 Full | $42.50 Concession
Bookings: Theatre Works
Image credit: Darren Gill