LA PASSION DE SIMONE
LA PASSION DE SIMONE, Sydney Chamber Opera in association with the Song Company and Sydney Festival at Carriageworks, 9-11 January 2019. Photography by Samuel Hodge
By DAVID HILYARD – Guest Reviewer
The blurb for this show says: “Sydney Chamber Opera presents the story of philosopher, political activist and mystic Simone Weil. Albert Camus wrote that Weil was, ‘the only great spirit of our times’; a Marxist and pacifist whose political and moral philosophy achieved fame after her death at age 34. The acclaimed Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho tells her remarkable and ultimately tragic story through music in this deeply spiritual contemporary opera, never before seen in Australia.”
I’m grateful for the explanation, as absolutely none of that comes through in the performance I endured. This 70-minute torture consists of a single principal singer (the talented Jane Sheldon) rooted to the spot, facing upstage, overacting tension and “passion”?, as a graphic projection shows her being buried in a mountain of rice. Uh huh. To the side, a substantial orchestra of about a dozen musicians, and four additional singers, add to the proceedings.
The staging is dire and irritating. Sheldon is immobile throughout. Her jerky movements convey no coherent emotion or narrative. The projected image is initially striking, but ultimately fails to add to the narrative, and its relevance is unclear.
The music occasionally reminded me of parts of Stravinsky and Shostakovich - that was in the brief good bits. Mainly, it comes from the Neo-Strident school, and simply prolonged the torment. The text is opaque.
Eventually, it all just stopped. We were released into the wilds of Redfern, where we took refuge in gin. It’s not often that one leaves a show having found not a jot of interest, insight, or consolation. This was such a night. I hated it with a passion.