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The Return of Ulysses by Pinchgut Opera

Home > Sydney > Classical Music | Opera | Theatre
by Jasmine Crittenden (subscribe)
Sydney-based travel, film and music writer, www.jasminecrittenden.net
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Monteverdi's epic opera of love, loyalty and deception
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Image credit: Brett Boardman


Claudio Monteverdi's opera The Return of Ulysses takes its inspiration from The Odyssey, an epic poem attributed to the ancient Greek poet Homer. The opera's protagonist is Ulysses, the mythical king of Ithaca, Greece, who, after spending ten years travelling the world, returns home – to his faithful wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus.

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Image credit: Brett Boardman


However, his kingdom is not as he left it. His palace has been occupied by three rival kings, each competing for Penelope's love and planning to kill Telemachus. Will Ulysses defeat them – or be cast out forever? The answer isn't entirely in his hands: behind the scenes, the Greek gods pull strings.

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Image credit: Brett Boardman


After premiering in 1639 at Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice, Italy, The Return of Ulysses remained obscure until the 1970s, when revivals in Vienna and Glyndebourne, UK, proved popular. Now, it's showing at City Recital Hall, Sydney, for just one week. The production – directed by Chas Rader-Shieber – is the work of Pinchgut Opera Company, which, founded in 2002, presents seldom-performed operas from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Image credit: Brett Boardman
Image credit: Brett Boardman


In the lead roles are two international stars. Portuguese tenor Fernando Guimarăres plays a commanding, yet world-weary, Ulysses, who, for all his bravery and heroism, is ultimately at the mercy of the gods' whims. Meanwhile, in the role of Penelope, Australian mezzo soprano Catherine Carby conveys a profound, mature sorrow.

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Image credit: Brett Boardman


Other stand-outs among the cast are British-Australian soprano Lauren Lodge-Campbell, who darts deftly between four roles, including that of the majestic goddess Minerva; Australian tenor Jacob Lawrence, who shifts between the impressive, striking god Giove and the humble, loyal herdsman Eumete; and British soprano Roberta Diamond, who delivers a sprightly, charismatic take on the young lover Melanto.

Image credit: Brett Boardman


The clever set – designed by Melanie Liertz – is minimal, keeping the focus on the performers and leaving much to the viewer's imagination. A spectacular white gauze curtain forms the backdrop, with changes in lighting (Nicholas Rayment) shifting the atmosphere from one mood to another, or from day to night, or from the human world to that of the gods. Changes in scene are achieved through simple props, such as a blanket that serves as a boat and branches that represent a forest.

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Image credit: Brett Boardman


The Return of Ulysses, as presented by Pinchgut Opera, is a magical adventure of love, loyalty and deception, in which neither the characters nor the viewers can be sure of the lines between the real and the imagined – nor between willpower and divine providence.
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Why? A Greek hero returns to his homeland
When: Saturday 15 June, 2pm; Sunday 16 June, 5pm; Tuesday 18 June, 7pm; Wednesday 19 June, 7pm
Phone: (02) 9318 8200
Where: City Recital Hall, 2 Angel Place, Sydney, NSW, 2000
Cost: $96-201
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