Review: Berceuse

3 years ago
Aidan Johnson

There are opera’s that one attends where you can don a tuxedo, sit in an opulent hall, and watch highly skilled performers play classical and timeless operas that have all been heard before yet draw large crowds even today. These operas are safe, predictable affairs with great misery and woe, while a hidden orchestra carries the day as singers soar to lofty emotional heights.

Berceuse was a different experience altogether.

The show itself was not a full opera – rather, it was a series of exerts from an upcoming contemporary opera piece, with several other short pieces. The show was more akin to a sampling of contemporary classical music – or potentially a series of PhD music student compositions – than a fully-fledged show based around a particular story or theme.

This should not detract from the show in any way – it was essentially a classical music show for hipsters, which worked perfectly for the venue in Carlton.

The music itself was very enjoyable. Although not the most accessible, the work was highly intellectually stimulating across all the composers – and many of these compositions were having their Australian premiere. It is difficult to describe all of the pieces in any uniform manner (outside of the general “artistic” umbrella) – many were quite short, and they were all different. Some featured larger ensembles with an interesting array of percussion, strings, and woodwind, whilst others were duets or smaller ensembles – there was even a solo piano sonata in there. Many featured intriguing instrumentation, and all of them were intellectually engaging and musically very interesting and technical.

The exerts from the opera were also enjoyable. With some very unusual instruments (including paper/manuscripts being rubbed together), the music was quite moving. Although it did feel a bit empty in the venue, which reduced the emotional impact, the composition and performance was nevertheless enjoyable. Besides, any musical interpretation of the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice is going to be moving on some level.

This naturally brings us to the performers. They were all highly skilled at their craft, and managed to bring to life the music of the composers. Considering the highly technical nature of the music, it should be stressed that clearly a lot of practice went into this performance. They not only forced their instruments to the ends of their “regular” abilities in relation to playing – they also managed to successfully translate the composers’ ideas for unusual and engaging sounds through playing them in unusual fashions. It was as much a show of looking at unusual playing techniques as it was about the music.

Nevertheless it was not a perfect night. One piece was not performed at all – due to an absentee player. Although she was unable to make the show due to a plane from Sydney not arriving or being delayed (something which was not fully explained), this should highlight the perils of tight schedules that rely on transportation – always have a backup plan in case something like this happens, and never rely on planes being on time.

This type of show is not really the first place you would start if you wished to introduce someone to the opera. The music was technically engaging and very clever, but it was also highly cerebral and really not the sort of classical music someone off the street would necessarily get into at a first listen.

Berceuse is worth checking out if you are a fan of intelligent contemporary classical music.


Presented by Forest Collective, Berceuse was performed at the Church of All Nations on 6 and 7 July 2018. The performances were dedicated to the memory of Eurydice Dixon.

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