Of Mice and Men | Opera AustraliaLeft – Jacqueline Mabardi and Anthony Dean Griffey. Cover – Barry Ryan and Anthony Dean Griffey. Photos – Jeff Busby

‘The best laid schemes of mice and men, Go often askew, And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy!’ – Robert Burns


Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men is based on the novella written by John Steinbeck in 1937. It tells the sad story of the friendship between two ranch-hands, George Milton (Barry Ryan) and Lennie Small (Anthony Dean Griffey), in 1930s America. Lennie is a gentle giant – childlike, unable to control his strength, and always getting into trouble. George is bound by his promise to Lennie’s aunt to look out for him. Lennie and George share a close bond of friendship, dreaming endlessly of a better life together on their own patch of land. But tragedy unfolds before the dream can be realised.

Ryan and Griffey are wonderful actors as well as singers. American tenor, Griffey, who has performed this role in many productions, crafts a vivid portrait of a man who is completely unaware of his own strength. The mannerisms he used to illustrate Lennie’s disability remained true, never sinking into caricature. Ryan provided a lovely complement to Griffey, creating a character stern and intelligent, who revealed his softness by protecting Lennie. It is not often that I am completely convinced by the acting in an opera. Ryan and Griffey are ably supported by a strong cast, including Bradley Daley as the aggressive Curly, and Jacqueline Mabardi as Curly’s flirtatious, dissatisfied wife.

The production is lent a filmic quality under the direction of Bruce Beresford, which is necessary for a story of such quiet tragedy. The movement between acts is represented by projected images, and the final chase by a projected film. I became completely immersed in the drama, as in a film, happily undistracted by unnecessary clumsy staging.

Sitting in the front row, it was interesting to see right into the orchestra pit – the Orchestra Victoria musicians, under the direction of conductor Tom Woods, seemed as much engaged and moved by the drama as the actors on the stage. Floyd’s composition, along with the libretto, skilfully translates the story to music.

It is refreshing to listen to modern operatic music (composed in 1970) that does not revert to atonality – and exciting to see opera in Australia embracing modern works and modern technology. This is a wonderful adaptation of a modern literary classic, and one of the best productions I have seen by Opera Australia in the past few years.


Opera Australia presents
Of Mice and Men
by Carlisle Floyd | adapted from the novel by John Steinbeck

Director Bruce Beresford

Venue: State Theatre | the Arts Centre, Melbourne
Dates: until December 10, 2011
Tickets: $50.00 – $238.00
Bookings: www.opera-australia.org.au