Marilyn Forever – the Barefoot Review

The Barefoot Review – Australia
Kym Clayton | 2 March 2015

Adelaide Festival. Gavin Bryars. Studio 520, ABC Collinswood Centre. 27 Feb 2015

Marilyn Forever is a chamber opera, which means it is ‘small’ in its execution and composer Gavin Bryars proposes it therefore has the “…possibility of more frequent performance…” and is more “…intimate and confined”.

Marilyn Forever is about Marilyn Monroe and is a poetic exploration of the day Marilyn died. It delves into the prominence of men in her all-too short life.

Production director Joel Ivany sets the action in front of a large curving white backdrop that gently arcs its way to the floor and forms the acting surface as well. This works a treat, and simple props become prominent under the well-executed moody lighting.

A jazz trio (with the composer himself on bass) takes stage right, and an eight-piece ensemble fabulously conducted by Bill Linwood provides the main musical backing from stage left.

So, the stage is set.

Anne Grimm as Marilyn wears ‘that’ white dress – which we routinely associate with Monroe – throughout the non-stop 90 minute performance. At times she blends in with the set and appears almost ethereal, which works well with the frequent suggestions of her alcoholic and prescription-pill induced haze. Baritone Richard Morris, who plays a selection of the men in Marilyn’s life, looks stark by contrast in his black suiting, as do supporting singers tenor Adam Goodburn and bass Nicholas Cannon who play the remaining two members of the cast.

At times the music is absorbing, and the occasional improvised solos from the jazz trio, especially from saxophonist Julien Wilson, are decidedly enervating. The orchestration is at times inspired in its use of woodwind and minimalist development of harmony and melody, which is a hallmark of Bryars’ compositions. However, the sung melody line borders on monotony. It almost has a drone quality and lacks vocal colour. Monotone was a word that was uttered all too frequently by the audience as they left at the conclusion of the performance. That said, Grimm was excellent as Marilyn, and Morris was commanding.

The performance begins in a broodingly ominous way as it brought slowly into focus and light a sheet-draped image of a Marilyn reclining in her bed. It concludes with the fading of lights and loss of focus and these images will linger on in the minds of the audience for all the right reasons, but the vocal score will not.

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