World Premiere of Whiteley at Opera Australia
Artist, rebel, Icon. Brett Whiteley burst onto the international art scene, all golden curls and bravado. He was dynamic, damaged, a big idea and a bold brush. Heroin was both muse and merciless master. Out of this tumultuous life spilled a messy array of brilliant artworks and astonishing self-reflection. In 2019, this Australian icon meets two of Australia’s most popular artists in a brand new work for the Australian stage: Whiteley, by Elena Kats-Chernin and Justin Fleming. Together they’ve created an opera to honour the life and work of a man who could not extricate his talent from his demons.
Casting British baritone and contemporary music specialist Leigh Melrose in the title role was a masterstroke. He sang with resounding strength and incisive clarity in an intensely expressive performance that captured Whiteley’s charismatic charm and his painful, doomed struggle with the darker angels of his nature.
With tousled hair and a shambling mix of insouciant brilliance and existential anxiety, baritone Leigh Melrose sang and portrayed the precocious, sometimes unlovable Whiteley with a vocal range from wiry ferocity to ethereal dreaminess, spanning swaggering moments of elan and despair.
Melrose is particularly impressive… There is long, languid stretching of the vowels, singing each syllable to its edge, thinning into ethereal transcendence and thickening into anger, and allowing cracking at the manic extremes – as Whiteley did with himself and his work. Melrose’s portrayal is intense and self-consumingly ferocious, and he carries this opera compellingly.