Yes, you did read the heading correctly;
the singers' voices are listed as numbers,
there's a character called 'Admirable'
Crichton in this opera, and it was performed
and recorded in Northern South Australia.
But this isn't Peter Schickele's Hoople
and Hurlbuth O'Keefe is as real
and remarkable as Gavin Bryars' hymn-singing
studied with Peter Sculthorpe, Tan Dun and John Williams
(she's a guitarist turned composer) and she sounds like a true
original. Her first attempt at opera, a re-working of 'The Seven
Deadly Sins' called Absolvency, was never completed but
it provided her with practice for her artistic preoccupations,
musical riddles, puns and puzzles: all explored fully in this
Because of copyright
restrictions, the opera's working title, The Real Da Vinci
Code was changed to Leonardo's Code and the textual
emphasis shifted. Dissatisfied with the anagrams in the Dan Brown
book, Rochelle Beasley made a story with bigger challenges. 'I
cracked the Da Vinci Code in minutes,' she writes in her particularly
frank programme notes, 'and thought that a toddler could
do better. Call that intellectual, does he? Let's see what he
makes of this then.'
Driven by her determination
to 'outmodern post-modernism' as she puts it, the new libretto
is 'a riddle inside a rebus wrapped in a cant.' 'There is a solution',
Ms Beasley says firmly, and then adds with typical Aussie
forthrightness, 'but you have to be bloody bright to see
The result is musical Sudoku, although very much better than pastiche.
There's a Berg-like mathematics in this score (and more - see
below) as well as Birtwistle's many - layered textures, but all
are intentional foundations for a distinctive voice. Melody
is everywhere in this closely woven tapestry and what makes it
so unusual are the limitless half-hints and allusions to musics
from by-gone ages. I heard six puzzle canons for example,
and the ghost of Antoine Brumel stalks the 'paraseismologist's'
music. 'Et ecce terrae motus,' Langley sings to Sophie
in their final love duet, 'How was it for you, my dear, my dove?
Including the awful puns (Sophie Niveau
has an aria called, 'I'm on the level') which Ms Beasley considers
a grudging homage to 'today's clever-dick comedy', the libretto
is crafted carefully . While posing for Leonardo, who never actually
appears in the opera, Mona Lisa - 'older than the rocks on which
she sits. Like the Vampire, she has been dead many times', according
to Walter Pater in 1869 - muses on the polymath's character and
genius. After praising the glories of the Italian Renaissance,
she dreams about the future and imagines 'Art' in the present
day. 'Will Cremona's 'green hill' flourish, will the fiddle's
voice ring clear?' she yearns, to a clever amalgam of Monteverdi
Definitely not, according to Rochelle Beasley. Instead, there
is dumbed-down hack-work dressed up in ersatz 'significance.'
The would-be writer Dan Mann (not Mr Brown but a kind of commercialised
Everyman) consults the works of successful authors including the
'Admirable' Crichton. Sex, sadistic violence and covered-up secrets
with world shattering consequences seem to be the ingredients
for a winning formula, although each must be packaged as scholarship.
'Piffle to that,' says Ms Beasley metaphorically, 'Let's have
some skill back. Let's make an opera with tunes and brains.'
And she has. This is
one of the most engaging scores to have
come my way for ages, performed by everyone
with great energy and affection. As
the piece progresses, the musical clues
are updated and spotting the references
is fun. The section called 'Only Just
Intonation' (an gentle parody of Stockhausen's
Stimmung in which Harry Partch's
43 note octaves can be clearly heard)
is particularly effective and is played
on copies of genuine Partch instruments:
Chromelodeon, Diamond Marimba and Cone-Gongs,
with a Dean Drummond Zoomoozophone added
for extra metallic resonance. (See the
and read Paul Serotsky on Partch's
The recording's best
singing comes from Windrush and Sloman
but no-one lets the side down at all
- no mean feat for a student group.
The chorus are excellent as Cathars,
Critics and the Public but they surpass
themselves in the second act closer,
'Shed, Boat, Shed? Shed Both!' where
they're joined by O'Keefe the Scat singer
(didgeridoo, didgey do, do doo do,
do wap wap, doo wap.) He's almost
worth the discs by himself.
Did I solve the puzzle? Well, the numbered
voices were easy, but the rest is a
work in progress. Try it for yourselves
- you'll enjoy it.