Australian Theatre Live, a streaming service that offers films of local performing arts productions for subscribers to view at home, has just added Pinchgut Opera’s delectable comedy The Loves of Apollo and Dafne to its growing list. ATL is as yet a relatively small service – Apollo and Dafne is the 20th film in its catalogue – but there’s no doubt it’s spotted a gap in the market and there are more films in the pipeline. It’s not hard to find great international performing arts content on streaming services but Australian work has been more elusive. As with the highly admired UK service NT Live, ATL productions are filmed during a performance. In the case of Apollo and Dafne it means there’s a terrific view of what the live audience saw and the bonus of close-ups of the Orchestra of the Antipodes and conductor Erin Helyard that abundantly show their pleasure in the music.
Just one small thing feels intrusive. At certain times the hanging microphones needed to capture the orchestra are visible (as of course they are for the live audience).
I reviewed The Loves of Apollo and Dafne for Limelight magazine in May 2021, saying Pinchgut “hits the jackpot again” with its second opera by Francesco Cavalli (after the superb Giasone in 2013, unfortunately not available to stream). These days Cavalli isn’t a name on everyone’s lips but he was very big in the 17thcentury and in the hands of Pinchgut and Helyard, the company’s brilliant artistic director, it was easy to see why. The music is gorgeous and, in the case of Apollo and Dafne, the plot highly amenable to contemporary treatment. Wearing his director’s hat, actor Mitchell Butel found a great deal of laughter and not a little pathos in the story of humans looking for love and gods behaving badly.
The setting is bang up to the minute. As I wrote then: “If you accept that the gods of Greek myth were the undisputed celebrities of the ancient world, it’s no great leap to align them with today’s multimedia personalities. Thus Venus (Jacqueline Dark, hilariously attired in lolly-pink frou-frou) could be a star of The Real Housewives of Olympus. Apollo (swaggering Max Riebl) is a highly self-satisfied fitness guru. An influencer probably. Amore (the wondrous Stacey Alleaume) is a smart-mouthed, spiky-haired skateboarder who doubtless has a big following on Tik Tok.”
The singers, wonderful actors all, take on a variety of roles and it’s great fun spotting the difference. The young and lavishly talented young Australian soprano Alexandra Oomans sings like a dream as both the va-va-voom goddess Aurora and down-to-earth Dafne. Dark’s comic turn as Venus is beautifully contrasted with the wisdom of her Filena, a no-nonsense woman whose advice to the younger Dafne is this: we live and die only once; there is no coming back. Seize the day.
As I write these words it is impossible to forget countertenor Max Riebl, whose obituary was published less than a year after his shining performance in Apollo and Dafne – or performances, we should say, as he was wonderful in the title role, a wayward husband and an old woman. Helyard described him as having “burnished, translucent tone”. Butel called him “a prince of a human being”. He was just 30.
This film is a tribute to his great gifts.
One of Pinchgut’s biggest hits in recent years was Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Platée, also available via ATL. It’s another one about gods and love and is given a cracking production by Neil Armfield. It’s fantastically entertaining and Kanen Breen’s central performance is sensational. Coming a bit later to ATL is Pinchgut’s Orontea from last year. It’s a sexy comedy of errors given a racy production directed by Constantine Costi. Pinchgut really is the goods when it comes to baroque opera. It’s great to have these performances captured.
ATL’s list also includes plays from companies large (Sydney Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre), small (Sydney’s Old Fitz) and in between (Griffin, strongly represented). There is something from the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra with the stellar contemporary circus company Circa; another outstanding contemporary circus company, Gravity & Other Myths, with The Pulse from 2021; and Jonathan Biggins’s tour de force one-man show, The Gospel According to Paul.