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fly away peter: review

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Wilson

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Wilson


From the newly emerged Sydney Chamber Opera comes Fly Away Peter, an opera inspired by Australian writer David Malouf’s novel of the same name. Elliott Gyger and Pierce Wilcox, the composer and librettist respectively, took inspiration from Malouf’s poetic and stirring words about the landscape of peace and war, of nature and of transcendence, transforming the page into a stunning visual and audio experience.

For someone who has never seen an opera before, the popping of my opera cherry on this exquisite production was certainly an experience of a lifetime. Malouf is one my favourite authors, and his delicate stroke of the hand combined with the striking set, haunting music, and impeccable singing struck deep to my core.

From the get-go, Fly Away Peter pulls at the heartstrings. Jim (Mitchell Riley), the protagonist, meats Imogen (Jessica Aszodi) and Ashley (Brenton Spiteri), and we discover that Jim is entranced by the birds that surround his native homeland.  He is in touch with his surroundings in a way only Malouf can describe: his novel The Imaginary Life a true testament to this and if you haven’t read it, I suggest doing so immediately. This connection becomes lost as Jim must go to war, and we watch him meet fellow soldiers, and then as he witnesses their death and descent into shadow. Jim succumbs to the turmoil of war too, perfectly depicted through the dirty and sticky clay that begins to cloud the singers, caking onto their skin and clothes, never letting go. Like war, like death, the dirt doesn’t give in, it becomes them, it takes them over.

Fly Away Peter arrived just in time for the ANZAC centenary. This could not have been by accident. An artwork that questions and confronts an audience with the truth of what men and women must go through in the face of war is all too relevant at a time like this. Reflection becomes the paramount task, the heavy burden bestowed upon our hearts, as we walk away from the devastating wreckage left behind. Of Jim speechless and entrenched in decay, of Imogen weeping for her lost friends, of Ashley as a ghostly figure, alone in his finality.

We are left with a slew of questions, unanswered and not apologised for. What happens to the wives and friends and family members of the men lost in war? What happens to a society that is consumed by the mechanics of violence? And finally, what happens to the soul that has unwillingly been lead into the darkness?

An incredible collaboration that has set the bar very high for the Sydney Chamber Opera, Fly Away Peter is showing until the 9th of May at Carriageworks. This short but sweet run is sure to change many more lives in the coming days.  Be sure you don’t miss this one.

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