Five actors wearing black with brown background and colourful balloons floating above them

Poulenc's opera masterpiece Les Mamelles de Tirésias comes to Sydney

14 May 2018
Burgeoning opera stars from the University of Sydney's Conservatorium of Music take to the stage for a run of Francis Poulenc's rarely-performed surrealist comic opera, Les Mamelles de Tirésias (The Breasts of Tirésias).

Presented as part of Con Opera, the series established by the Conservatorium in 1934, Les Mamelles de Tirésias is a fully-staged production, bringing together students and graduates of the Conservatorium and professional practitioners.

Artistic Director of Con Opera and Senior Lecturer from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Dr Stephen Mould said, "Les Mamelles de Tirésias is an extraordinary melting pot in which the composer gathered and displayed all of the disparate elements of his eclectic musical taste.

“For this he was long criticised, though his music is more regularly performed than that of his contemporaries, and it's now brought to life on the other side of the world, almost three quarters of a century after it was first performed, allowing the rising stars of opera in Australia to shine.”

Based on the eponymous play by Guillaume Apollinaire, Francis Poulenc composed the music and premiered the work in post-war Paris’s Opéra Comique in 1947. An absurdist romp through a loose narrative centring on a turbulent relationship between Thérèse and her husband, Apollinaire drew on the Greek mythology of the Tirésias, one of Apollo’s blind prophets, famous for clairvoyance and for being transformed into a woman for seven years. 

Kate Gaul, director and designer

“To stage this extraordinary work, we are delighted to welcome back to the Conservatorium our director and designer Kate Gaul , who has already created several exceptional productions for us, including English Eccentrics. Her vision for Les Mamelles de Tiresias is ‘spectacle’ in the truest sense of the opéra bouffe tradition,” said Dr Mould.

“Beginning with a feminist revolt in which Thérèse changes herself to a man and changes her husband into a woman, this gender-bending opera ends with a poignant message of peace and procreation in a country ravaged by war, exhorting the audience to repopulate and our young stars give superb performances,” said Kate Gaul, who has worked both nationally and internationally, and is Artistic Director of Siren Theatre Company.

“In true Poulenc fashion of pastiche, we’ve cast two leads to play the role of Thérèse/Tirésias.” she said.

Jessica Blunt is currently completing the Master of Music Studies (Opera Performance) after graduating from the Bachelor of Music Performance (Voice) at the Sydney Conservatorium. Her counterpart, Esther Yee Eun Song, currently completing her Master of Music Studies in Opera Performance, and has appeared in their productions of La Calisto and Die Zauberflöte.

In the role of Le Mari, Thérèse’s husband, is Scottish-born tenor Gavin Brown who has a number of impressive productions under his belt, including The Antagonist at the Opera House, and The Light in the Piazza at the Reginald Theatre. The Sydney Conservatorium of Music graduate has returned this year to also complete his Masters of Music Studies (Opera Performance).

“We are very lucky to have them in this production. While this might seem like a wild ride into a beautifully weird world it is embedded in culture and history with strong political overtones. I concentrate on the relationships between the characters as well as the artists and the audience.

This production has been conceived very simply, placing the extraordinary characters in a space where they can shine. The costume design is inspired in part by Wes Anderson and in part by French physical theatre. In conjunction with simple objects such as balloons, placards, and toys and the inventive talents of our lighting designer, Fausto Brusamolino, hair and makeup designer, Rachel Dal Santo, we have created a unique world that is a fitting tribute to Poulenc’s timeless music," said Kate Gaul.

“Les Mamelles de Tirésias is a bewildering mélange of the unlikely, the absurd, and the hysterical, all woven together by Poulenc’s rich and irreverent score. We know that audiences will enjoy this operatic rarity,” added Dr Mould.

Event details:

What: Con Opera presents Les Mamelles de Tirésias

When: 19-26 May 2018

Where: University of Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Tickets: Adults $40 | Concession/Student/Child $25 | Tickets

Helen Loughlin

Senior Communications Officer

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