Kosky’s opera wows Adelaide

A lavish scene in Handel’s oratorio Saul, which was one of the highlights of this year’s Adelaide Festival. Photo: Bill Cooper

OPERA director Barrie Kosky enjoyed a triumphant return to the Adelaide Festival with his spectacular production of Handel’s opera Saul.

Produced by the Glyndebourne Opera Festival – where Kosky first directed it in 2015 – Saul was the centrepiece of this year’s Adelaide Festival held over 17 days earlier this month.

Not only was Saul the most expensive production in the festival, its four performances were all sold out and enjoyed acclaim from the critics and standing ovations from the audiences.

For Kosky, it was a sweet return to Adelaide for the first time since 1996 when he was artistic director of the Adelaide Festival.

Kosky, 50, burst onto the Melbourne scene in the 1990s with his avant-garde Gilgull Theatre productions of Der Dybbuk and The Operated Jew, before directing numerous theatre and opera productions.

He moved to Europe in 2001 to head the Schauspielhaus Vienna before taking up the role of artistic director of one of Germany’s main opera houses, the Komische Oper Berlin, in 2012, where he is contracted until 2022.

Saul is a lavish production of biblical proportions, based on George Frideric Handel’s 18th century English oratorio about the first king of Israel’s relationship with his successor David, who enjoyed the adulation of the people after slaying Goliath.

The mood of Saul swings between jealousy and rage to love and admiration in the three-hour opera featuring a mixture of international and Australian singers led by British -bass-baritone Christopher Purves in the title role, American -counter-tenor Christopher Lowrey as David, and Australian tenor Adrian Strooper (currently working with Kosky at the Komishe Oper Berlin) as Saul’s son Jonathan.

This year’s Adelaide Festival -features a wide variety of performances, including Israeli dance company L-E-V performing two shows on March 18-19.

After 23 years with the acclaimed Batsheva Dance Company, principal dancer and choreographer Sharon Eyal left to create the new company, teaming up with Tel Aviv rave party producer Gai Behar and several Batsheva dancers for their productions, Killer Pig and OCD Love.

Danny Braverman, an academic and founding member of British theatre company bread&circuses, presented his solo show Wot? No Fish!! at this year’s festival.

This was his first time at the Adelaide Festival, although Braverman performed Wot? No Fish!! in Melbourne and Sydney in 2015.

Each week, beginning in 1926, Braverman’s great uncle Ab Solomons (a London shoemaker) drew a picture on his wage packet and gave it to his wife, Celie. This tradition continued over six decades and he sketched 3000 illustrations until her death in 1982, chronicling their lives as a Jewish couple in London.

Braverman introduced the show by offering gefilte fish for the audience to taste – about half the audience was Jewish on the night that I attended – and then comfortably slipped into the show as he displayed his uncle’s artwork on a large screen, adding spicy anecdotes to the visual display.

In addition to the Adelaide Festival there was the Adelaide Fringe, which ran for a month until March 19 with more than 1000 shows. And the annual Womadelaide festival of music, held this year from March 10-13, featured performers from around the world including the 14-member Israeli group Piyut Ensemble, which is renowned for its original choral-style music and vibrant sound.

The Piyut Ensemble performed at the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival in 2014 and has appeared at other music festivals.

REPORT by Danny Gocs