In town to judge the Keir choreography awards later in the week, Brussels based Norwegian Mette Edvardsen presents the Australian premiere of Penelope sleeps, her own opera with music by Italian composer Matteo Fargion. Both appear in the production, along with talented soprano Angela Hicks, hailing from London.

Penelope sleeps is an indirect reference to the figure of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, who waited years for her husband to return while he travelled the world and waged war. She in the meantime, kept a large number of suitors at bay. Like the tale of the small spider that Edvardsen recounts in her opera, Penelope was a weaver. However, every night she would unravel the result of her work in order to start over again. The performance mimics working-without-an-outcome: Penelope sleeps is an opera, but along with being music in theatre, it is also about the notion of weaving a text that is constantly beginning to fray.

The audience is first presented with a vast but minimalist performance space. Theatrical risers fitted with cushions sit the audience intimately with the players, who are found from the outset lying flat on the floor.

The performance begins with Edvardsen, supine,  reciting the opening monologue, the tale of a spider in her younger self’s bedroom, an elusive arachnid being pursued by her father. While the surtitles projected above the stage ensure no point of the story is missed (even for the spoken parts), it’s immediately clear how familiar Edvardsen is with her dialogue, delivering from memory the English cadence as if it were her mother tongue. Playing off this is the remarkable talent of Hicks, effortlessly hitting the notes while lying flat, sometimes lying to the side, sometimes sitting crossed legged on the floor, with unsurpassed vocal control. It’s almost confounding to experience the soaring lyrics from such a quiescent artist. 

Fargion too completes the triad, never rising any higher than that assisted by the floor cushion he props himself upon, playing the emotive and rhythmic harmonium with no less than the drama required to weave the various movements together.

Penelope sleeps is an intense presentation. Even moments of quiet between ‘acts’ create an awkwardness where the audience becomes intensely conscience of itself.  The show strings together fragments of very divergent stories, a fragile unfinished tapestry of voices, a linguistic resonance chamber in which the figures of Penelope and Odysseus remain as vague as a dream from which one might have awakened.

Penelope sleeps is presented for one more performance at Carriageworks, before moving to Melbourne.

Penelope sleeps
An opera by Mette Edvardsen & Matteo Fargion
Text: Mette Edvardsen
Music: Matteo Fargion
Performed by Mette Edvardsen, Matteo Fargion and Angela Hicks
Light and technical support: Bruno Pocheron
Costumes: Anne-Catherine Kunz
Subtitling and production support: Cillian O’Neill
Production: Mette Edvardsen/Athome, Manyone & Eva Wilsens
Co-production: Kaaitheater & Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Brussels), BUDA (Kortrijk), Black Box teater (Oslo), Teaterhuset Avant Garden (Trondheim), BIT Teatergarasjen (Bergen), centre chor├ęgraphique national de Caen in Normandie (France), apap-Performing Europe 2020 - a project co-founded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union
Residency support: Black Box teater (Oslo), MDT (Stockholm), Kaaitheater (Brussels)
Supported by: Norsk Kulturr├ąd, Norwegian Artistic Research Program – Oslo National Academy of the Arts

*images @ Werner Strouven RHoK