Review: The Nightingale and Other Fables

A rich opera of Hans Christian Andersen's subtle and haunting tales

international review (adelaide) | Read in About 2 minutes
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The Nightingale and Other Fables photo by Andrew Beveridge
Published 06 Mar 2024

The Nightingale and Other Fables, first performed under the direction of Robert Lepange in 2009, seeks to turn opera on its head. The orchestra pit is flooded with water, forcing tenors to perform submerged and ceding the main stage to the ASO. Thus upsetting convention, the opera promises to engage fresh audiences and invites them to witness some of the artistry that is normally obscured.

The “other fables” come first. Talking animals are depicted amongst barnyard life in a series of whimsical tales, performed by choir, accompanied with an orchestral selection, and lit with charming shadow puppetry. Yet underneath these fables runs a current of sexual danger and reciprocal violence which lurk ever near the surface of rustic domesticity.

The main event comes after the intermission, this time with the full orchestral arrangement on display. In contrast to the earlier stories, 'The Nightingale' is set in the court of an ancient Chinese emperor. Gilded costumes, intricate puppetry and lavish sets furnish the subtle and haunting tale of Hans Christian Andersen. The star of the show is soprano Yuliia Zasimova who brings rich life to gracious nightingale, but the entire cast shines.

Based on the works of one of the greatest modern composers, and sustained by world-class performances, Nightingale and Other Tales is a treat for lovers of opera. But in some ways Lepange’s direction has been betrayed by its own success: what was genre-smashing in 2009 doesn’t feel as daring today. Nevertheless, this is a laudably accessible opera with tangible appeal.


The Nightingale and Other Fables, Adelaide Festival Centre, until 6 March