Left – Meow Meow. Cover – Kanen Breen and Meow Meow. Photos – Pia Johnson
My love affair... no my infatuation... no that's not right either... my obsession... no I'm not obsessed... my stalker tendencies for... no that's just wrong (but not entirely)... my... thing for Meow Meow goes back many years now, as the whole world knows. And as much as I have always melted at the mere mention of her name and become positively turgid at the prospect of a new show, 'Tis Pity left me... let's just say it didn't leave me with the raging emotional hard-on her performances usually leave me with.
Part of the problem is that Meow Meow belongs on a pedestal. A pedestal with spotlights focused on her unique and divine presence. Of course she is usually accompanied on stage, but usually by a small band or a solo pianist or some hand-picked reluctant volunteers from the audience.
In 'Tis Pity, however, Miss Meow is part of a much larger cast and as such, her star power has been much diluted. And 'tis a pity.
Borrowing its name from... I thought it got its name from a recent Bowie song, but it's actually from a 17th century play by John Ford. The full title is 'Tis A Pity She's A Whore, and this production by Victorian Opera is indeed an examination of prostitution in its various forms throughout the ages.
We start off in ancient Athens and Rome and move through the ages to modern times in a series of 10 vignettes, each exploring various aspects of prostitution and its standing in the respective times, all told in a kind of Vaudevillian operatic style.
The work is a collaboration between artistic director and composer Richard Mills, director Cameron Menzies, and performer (what an insufficient word, given her star quality) Meow Meow. MM is accompanied on stage by co-lead Kaneen Breen and three dancers Alexander Bryce, Thomas Johansson and Patrick Weir. The stage is also rammed with a symphony orchestra. All do a fine job.
Ironically, all of this talent on stage adds up to the reason this was a little less satisfying for me than the usual Meow Meow experience. There were teasing glimmers of classic Meow Meow craziness but it was buried in so much orchestra and opera (yes, I know from other shows that she holds her own in classic song of whichever style she chooses to play with). I do appreciate classical music, but as a soundtrack I found the music here distracting. I kept feeling like I was listening to a Disney cartoon, melodramatic tunes accompanying crazy visual antics. And I don't think I appreciate the operatic delivery of story, so while I found the vocals amazing, it's just not my preferred way of being told a story or given information. I don't actually like having to take my eyes away from the performance to read the English interpretation of the Italian lyrics being sung.
But that's just me. I haven't seen a lot of opera, so I'd love to hear what someone who knows about opera thinks of this performance.
At the heart of 'Tis Pity is a serious examination of a very human condition. What they have tried to do is balance the seriousness of the topic with comedy. In past shows I've been amazed by Meow Meow's ability to draw from me tears of hilarity and tears of the other kind in such a short time. Again, here, for me, not so much. I'm not sure this balancing act of sincerity and humour worked so well.
I went in aware that this was going to be a little different to my favourite Meow Meow shows of the past, and yes, there is so much amazing talent present in this production, and yes I did start to really enjoy it but not until the Berlin Vignette, which was quite a way into the show.
I'm not quite sure why this show was “written at breakneck speed”, as Richard Mills tells us in the program notes, but perhaps it would have benefited with a bit more time. Really not bad, just possibly doesn't deliver its full potential.
Victorian Opera presents
An Operatic Fantasia on Selling the Skin and the Teeth
Venue: Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre
Dates: 4 – 8 February 2017