Chamber Made Opera's latest production recreates the experience of air travel in a suburban lounge room.

The latest offering from the consistently innovative Chamber Made Opera pushes ever more boundaries with Turbulence. This time the boundary is vertical as we fasten our seatbelts and take for the skies.

Chamber Made Air Flight 63 began in the street with suitably attired airhostesses and stewards greeting passengers. A well-rehearsed introduction led to the boarding of the plane and being seated in a bona fide living room that lent itself remarkably well to its conversion into the cramped interior of an aeroplane. A number of appropriate pieces of business helped to create atmosphere. Lights were dimmed, fans began whirring and the complex soundscape began.

The opera is divided into three sections: i. from a state of quietness, ii. sudden transitions and iii. a critical point. Juliana Hodgkinson has assembled a diverse mixture of prerecorded tapes to merge with the live voices and various sound effects. It is not a matter of live performers running to the schedule of a relentless prerecorded sound track, but rather having technicians at the back of the room respond to cues from the main character, the Mother.

In this role, Deborah Kayser was excellent. Her pure, beautifully controlled soprano has been a feature of many cutting-edge performances and she has always been a huge asset to whatever project she has undertaken. This was no exception. Whether in nonverbal vocalizing or dramatic spoken or sung text, her wide range of timbre, colour and pitch were key ingredients in the success of this performance. Without wishing to detract from the experience of the surprise elements, it has to be said that sitting next to an operatic performer in a very confined space can be confronting. Such are Kayser’s personal charms and control of vocal dynamics, that there was much more thrill than discomfort involved for audience members.

As the 19-year-old Daughter, Anneli Bjorasen used her vocal skills to good effect. Mainly using spoken word, her voice was expressive and her outbursts of almost strangulated anger conveyed even more meaning than the text itself, which could be fairly oblique. Ideas were sometimes suggested rather than spelled out, although the essential metaphoric thrust was apparent. The wonders of giving birth and the joys of contemplating a baby were counterpointed by the irrationality of life that brings with it failure, conflict and barriers to intimacy. The inclusion in the soundtrack of a baby crying was at once a reminder of a less appealing aspect of air travel and the frustrations of life from birth onwards.

From the boarding procedures to the meditative opening sequence, through turbulence to the shock ending, this artistic simulation of an early flight had much to offer.

Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5

Chamber Made Opera
Composer: Juliana Hodgkinson
Libretto: Cynthia Troup
Director: David Young
Sound design: Jethro Woodward
Performers: Deborah Kayser (Mother), Anneli Bjorasen (Daughter)
A private living-room, Northcote
3-12 October

Melbourne Fringe Festival
18 September – 6 October

Heather Leviston

Monday 7 October, 2013

About the author

Heather Leviston is a Melbourne-based reviewer.