Victorian Opera commissioned four young Australian composers to write Seven Deadly Sins, with a sin for each of seven Australian cities. They were inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s assigning of sins to USA cities for Die Sieben Todsunden, written in 1932, with Kurt Weill, in Paris, after they had fled Berlin. The new sins were performed by Orchestra Victoria and seven singers, while the inspiring piece and its sins were owned, and sung in the original German, by the extraordinary Meow Meow.
Directed by Cameron Menzies and conducted by Tahu Matheson, the new work celebrates the sins of our cities, as much as the music and text of Julian Langdon, Mark Viggiani, Ian Whitney and Jessica Wells – and the newly-graduated talent of singers Kate Amos, Nathan Lay, Elizabeth Lewis, Emma Muir-Smith, Michael Petruccelli, Cristina Russo and Matthew Tng.
Highlights were Adelaide trying to fight Gluttony and resist its own “awesome appetite” for Frog Cakes, Fruchos, Beestings and Coopers Pale Ale, and Canberra’s Pride leading to the fall of Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Rudd and Abbott. “I won’t say sorry!” says Howard in a Team Australia tracksuit. “I will!” says Rudd in a suit, before Gillard sings like Evita about men in blue ties.
Melbourne’s Greed is John Wren asking if it was power or glory. Sydney’s Lust wants real estate and brunch. Brisbane’s Sloth is too hot to get a beer, Hobart’s Envy can’t win a game show, and Perth’s Anger is a mini-opera about an aging mining tycoon with a “with a witch to the left of me and a bitch to the right of me.”
After the interval, Meow Meow was Anna 1 (the singer) and Anna 2 (the dancer) in Die Sieben Todsunden. With the orchestra and a male quartet (Michael Petruccelli, Carlos E Bárcenas, Nathan Lay and Jeremy Kleeman) as her judging family, it was like there was no distance between the performer and the composer and writer.
Meow Meow is the cabaret persona of Melissa Madden Gray but the genius of Meow is that she’s never anything but real. And to have Meow playing the Annas has got to be like seeing the piece as Weill and Brecht did. As a character she’s vulnerable but unbreakable, and as a performer playing a performer playing a character, she understands every note, syllable and satirical nuance about being a German work, set in the US, created in Paris and performed so many years later in Australia. She’s astonishing.
The only disappointment is that it was a one-night only concert. New Australian work deserves to be seen, heard and loved. The Seven Deadly Sins is funny and welcoming as it sings about the Australian propensity to celebrate and indulge in our sinning. Let’s hope there are plenty of new ways to let the sins be shared.
And what about a season of Brecht/Weill with Meow Meow?