Prior to Opera Australia’s Melbourne season, Deborah Humble spoke to Adrian Tamburini, who performs the role of Chief Clerk in Brian Howard’s Metamorphosis. She began by asking him about the part.
What was it like being offered a role in such an edgy, non-mainstream production?
When I was offered the role of the Chief Clerk in Brian Howard’s Metamorphosis, I was excited, not only that I could add another role to my CV, but more importantly that it was an opera by an Australian composer. I’ve been privileged to perform a large number of Australian works in my career, and I hope that this continues. I think it’s so important that Australian composers get a chance to have their works heard in live performance for the world to hear and I am happy to do everything I possibly can to champion their works.
I hope the public will come to support this piece in Melbourne. I think it’s really important for Australian audiences to support Australian works, new and old. Unlike many main-stage opera productions these days, this production is a 100% Australian collaboration: cast, crew, orchestra.
Franz Kafka’s story has been described as a ‘grotesque tragedy.’ How were you introduced to his writing?
I was introduced to Franz Kafka after reading Murakami and Orwell. Metamorphosis is a story about one man’s transformation (into a bug), how his family deal with it (and the burden it presents them) and their response to the burden.
I loved the rawness and edginess of his writing and the commentary on society and government internationally at the time. Regardless of the period that these authors were working, their works are still thoroughly modern and have a relevance that can, sadly, be applied today.
How would you describe your experience during the rehearsal period and what was the approach of director Tama Matheson and designer Mark Thompson?
During the rehearsal process Tama Matheson opened up a dialogue with everyone involved in the production about what it all meant and why, or whether, it’s still important to talk about this story.
Tama is a fine director, actor and writer in his own right and was the best person I could think of to bring this opera to the stage. He was totally collaborative during the rehearsal period and actively made us feel like we were a part of the creative process in realising the world in which these characters lived.
Mark Thompson created a ‘steam punk’ post-apocalyptic set of scaffolding and period furniture which immediately created the tension inherent in the Kafka story. John Rayment’s lighting design was equally stark and vividly created an environment of unease and impending dread (projected bugs and all).
How did the chamber style instrumentation and orchestration contribute to the story?
This score was indeed by far the hardest music I have ever had to learn. Thank goodness for the masterful leadership of our conductor, Paul Fitzsimon, for meticulously leading us, teaching us and helping us get the most out of every phrase, every word and every moment of the music.
I feel that Brian Howard purposefully used a small ensemble orchestra for this opera to reinforce the interrelatedness of the six characters on the stage. The multiphonic and dissonant soundscape created by the strings, woodwinds (including saxophone), French horn, electric guitar and large percussion section replicated Kafka’s world of unease and transformation in the novel. Never have I heard an orchestra sound so ‘buglike’ before.
Because of the small scale scoring and casting of this piece an unusual venue was used in Sydney. Tell us about that…
I was happy to be proved wrong about the suitability of the ‘found’ venue in Sydney. Instead of using a traditional theatre space, the company decided to use the Set Construction Workshop in the Opera Centre in Surry Hills. Being a more intimate, not-for-purpose space gave the audience (and us for that matter) an edgier, more surreal theatrical experience. I’m looking forward to transferring the show to the Malthouse in Melbourne with its industrial aesthetic and not-for-purpose feel.
What was the most rewarding aspect of being involved?
For me, the most rewarding part of this whole process was to work with five of the best opera singers in the country. And I don’t mean, five of the best voices, more importantly I mean five of the best collaborators, team players and intelligent singing/actors. Although I love a good ‘cast of thousands’ opera (think Aida), when you get the chance to work intimately with your colleagues, ask questions and offer considered answers then, I find, the product is greater than the sum of its parts.
What is next for you Adrian?
I’m truly honoured to be able to bring this opera to my home city, Melbourne, for what will be my final season with Opera Australia after a happy decade of singing with the national company. Next year sees me freelancing for the first time in my life. I will be tackling some new repertoire here in Australia before I relocate to Italy (I am also an Italian citizen) to start a European Operatic Career later in 2019.