‘Tis Pity: An Operatic Fantasia on Selling the Skin and the Teeth is an erotic yet profound stageplay unlocking the ancient prostitute.
When attending a live production, you hope to be wooed by stage grandeur and expertise, captured by the narrative however flippant or solemn it may be. The Victorian Opera’s newest work ‘Tis Pity: An Operatic Fantasia on Selling the Skin and the Teeth stars two strangers – to each other, but not to us – in a waggish song cycle proving to gratify all your entertainment criteria.
Cabaret extraordinaire Meow Meow and opera naughty boy Kanen Breen make their collective debut for a night of volatile yet compelling theatrics exploring the history of the world’s oldest profession. The courtesan continues to literally and metaphorically murmur, standing the test of time exposing relevant and adaptive instabilities – Meow Meow believes in its modern day pertinence and hopes this performance will shine the torch on that.
“The show has got these references to selling one’s self but what we’re doing is looking at it in the broader context of the world and what we all do to survive and how we’re all playing roles all the time.
“The way Australian politics has gone and now of course with Trump – the kind of extreme landscape that we’re in of name-calling and big broad labels – that’s what we’ve been looking at in the piece which is still 70 minutes of orchestral splendour.”
A sophisticated conglomeration of themes presents an artistic minefield to the untrained eye, nevertheless, Meow Meow affirms that convolution may lead to majesty. “I do like to sing a political song while in the splits – you want to appeal to people on all levels at the one time. We’re in collaboration with the opera and with the orchestra so there’s a lot of sounds and ideas that we’re trying to harness in a short playing time. It’s fast and you can’t solve the problems of the world necessarily, but I always try to.”
Breen stands opposite Meow Meow – a partnership proving difficult in preparation but looming lucrative on stage. “He’s a hilarious person so it’s very difficult to get anything done in rehearsal,” she says. “As an opera singer, he’s also a hilarious actor but operatically can use his voice in so many ways. He’s doing some incredibly beautiful French songs in there that are heartbreaking and his voice is so dexterous that he can really go anywhere, which is really the only thing I’m interested in working with on stage – someone who’s in and out of comedy and tragedy and he’s great at that.”
The musical score is equally definitive in the grand scale of the show and acclaimed Australian composer Richard Mills has not one surprise but another to ensure the soundtrack is conciliatory.
“He’s got a 35-piece orchestra and he’s written a lot for the Ondes Martenot which is this fantastic instrument which is bizarre and rarely used – it sort of sounds a little bit like the theremin – so he’s written a lot for that which is really unusual. It’s hilarious to listen to and can also be very spiritual, beautiful, magical and transcendent.
“Quite a lot of the show is like a ‘30s lush film score with this crazy Ondes Martenot running through it. It’s got this really interesting texture as well as rocking into ragtime, Charleston and silent songs. It's got all sorts of joyous dance forms in the orchestration.”
Career acclaim stemming from wizardry in a corset and a chimney pot hat, this work could easily be pigeonholed as another razzle dazzle cabaret to solidify Meow Meow’s repute. Nevertheless, she won’t be granted her usual liberty with Mills rendering the form very much in line with his score.
“This isn’t really a cabaret, it’s a song cycle,” Meow Meow explains. “So ten songs that are fully orchestrated – there’s a score, there’s a libretto and it follows an orchestral show format rather than each song having a massive journey and making a story out of those songs together. It’s very much come from the mind of Richard Mills with Cameron Menzies. I'm destroying it basically.”
By Tom Parker
‘Tis Pity runs at the Melbourne Recital Centre from Saturday February 4 to Wednesday February 8 (excluding Sunday February 5). Tickets via Melbourne Recital Centre.