State Opera South Australia. Plant 4, Bowden. 3 Jun 2021
Love Burns is a compact chamber opera with music by Adelaide’s own Graeme Koehne and libretto by Louis Nowra. The story has its basis in fact and is inspired by the true 1940s story of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck who were known as the Lonely Hearts Killers. Con-man Jack (played by tenor, Mark Oates) seduces and marries lonely rich widows for their money, and then kills them at the urging of his real life partner Angela (Soprano, Jessica Dean). They eventually come undone and the State of New York ‘burns’ them in the electric chair! It’s all very melodramatic and the action is very episodic with little room to explore issues and develop characters other than superficially. This is a shame because the historical characters and events make for very interesting reading, and several films have been made about the case (most recently in 2006). That said, the opera is great fun and definitely tongue-in-cheek.
Director Nicholas Cannon draws terrific performances from the all members of the cast, and the overall high quality of acting is a feature of the show. Plant 4 is not the best of venues for any seated and staged performance, and as a concert hall it makes a good shed! The acoustics are awkward, and needed the near faultless sound engineering provided by Allpro Audio to give the audience a reasonable audio experience. When at full voice in the tenser moments of the opera, Jessica Dean’s soprano voice doesn’t always come out the winner, but in quieter and more reflective moments she produces nicely rounded and sweet tones that gently fill the space. On the other hand, Mark Oates has no problems and is uniformly excellent. His acting and comic timing, and strong tenor voice is a highlight. Cherie Boogart, Rosie Hosking and Jeremy Tatchell provide excellent support in a variety of roles. Again, their fine singing and strong (almost over-the-top) acting prop up the slender storyline and give the audience much to enjoy.
Simone Romaniuk’s set is skeletal and works very well with Ben Flett’s distinctive lighting design. The execution scene is particularly effective and makes the audience immediately sit back and contemplate what has just happened! It is almost blasé and gives one cause to think about the ho-hum, here-we-go-again response the US of A displays when confronted with yet another mass shooting. The choreographed scene changes by the cast are fun, and one forgets about the often interrupted nature of the story line.
Anthony Hunt conducts a small, quality orchestra of ten and handles Koehne’s eclectic score particularly well. It is a tight performance, whilst being musical and fun.
This latest production in the State Opera’s ‘Lost Operas of Oz’ series is one of its best. More please.
Where: Plant 4, Bowden