John P. Harvey
John is a well-established film and play critic. He has penned reviews (somewhere over 160 reviews of stage performances) for Stage Whispers since 2005, and occasionally writes for BMA magazine
The Weight of Light is a song cycle taking the form of a lightly staged opera using a sole male singer to play several roles. The daringly avant-garde score accounts for the four years that composer James Humberstone spent on the work: it is, to say the least, demandingly complex. Though the lyrics comprise plain prose, musically most of the pieces are relentlessly atonal and without notable rhythmic predictability; require various techniques for producing notes and other sounds from a piano; and feature a range of dissonances that challenge the ear more used to consonance.
The pitch of the voice part was frequently (though less so in the final few songs) so utterly at odds with the notes of the piano as to alienate the two instruments, and this succeeded well in conveying musically the anguish that the lyrics express more explicitly. Whereas such conflicts between instruments had an effect that earlier ages might have perceived as cacophonous, dissonances within the piano part (which, though dissonant, sounded faultless) were less challenging and, to this ear at least, still made harmonic sense, rendering them more interesting rather than less. For this reason, the several instrumental pieces, “lacunas”, interspersed among the 14 songs were easier than many of the songs for the musical ear to recognise as music.
Using the one singer throughout the performance of pieces with little variation in pace or mood could have been visually dull, but staging offered non-verbal clues to what was going on, and the singer interacted with a combination of strong (if minimalist) set design and exacting lighting design that maintained intrigue throughout.
The Weight of Light
Music: James Humberstone
Words: Nigel Featherstone
Director: Caroline Stacey
Voice: Michael Lampard
Piano: Alan Hicks
The Street Theatre, Canberra, 3–4 March 2018
Goulburn Regional Conservatorium, 10 March 2018