He didn’t like it, no sirree

Peter MacCallum titles his review “A cruelty that extends to all within earshot” and opens with

First I need to be honest and say that I found Peter Goldsworthy and Richard Mills’s Batavia the vilest thing I have experienced in the theatre.

It’s an appallingly studied invectival tirade masquerading as a brutal-but-fair assessment. One is forced to wonder whether Messrs Goldsworthy and Mills ever tied MacCallum down and popped a ferret in his trousers, such is his spite.

The libretto of Batavia tells a tale of violence and brutal despair that is possibly unmatched even in the world of opera, but is that any excuse to cynically coopt the language of violence in order to produce hyperbole such as this?

I felt in the presence of people with megalomaniacal visions who were not going to let me go until I had experienced their grand narrative, so that one felt raped by the volume, alienated by the lack of sensitivity or aptness in the musical symbols, and repelled by the unctuous sermonising.

I’ve got no idea whether I would enjoy this opera or not, but such obstreperous abuse in a review makes me much more interested in it than I would otherwise be, which is definitely not McCallum’s intent according to other reviewers. How can a B-movie schlock aficionado such as myself resist the alluring pull of a theatrical experience distilled to the following?

Most people don’t dream about utopian society built on rape, throat-slitting and infanticide.

Finally, after a few discursions where he bestows begrudging praise on some aspects of the production (in phrases striking a chord suggestive of dimly perceived faint competence, no more), McCallum falls back onto his chaise-longue only to realise there’s one aspect of the production which he has inexplicably neglected thus far to slag! With his last ounce of failing critical acumen, he utters

The sound of the chorus was unrelenting and unvaried, although this is a problem more with the score than the performance. Readers must make up their own mind but for me, I would just say no.

and sated, succumbs to the vapours. Poor little delicate flower.

Categories: Culture

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4 replies

  1. A decidedly odd review, but I’m with you: I’d be much more morbidly fascinated with seeing it than not, having read it.
    It reminds me, by way of contrast, of Rob Rummel-Hudson’s review of Lady Macbeth of Mtensk. I’m still unsure whether I could actually watch LMoM, simply because I think that the sexual coercion would be too much for me, but I rather regret that.

  2. I’m not really one for modern opera, but I’d be more inclined to see it than not, after this review. Mind you, I’m fascinated by the Batavia story anyway, and the “utopian society built on rape, throat-slitting and infanticide” is what actually happened in real life.
    Perhaps Lord of the Flies shouldn’t have been written either?

  3. …without the intriguing verisimilitude of great tragedies in which one traces, in a villain’s thoughts, seeds that have stirred one’s own heart. I don’t accept the dangerous equivocation that these things are present in everyone.
    Did anyone else think that these two sentences contradict each other?
    One is confused.

  4. I think McCallum is hugely confused.
    I love a good snarky review as much as the next pedant, but this one is just so hateful. I only knew about it because I heard the review discussed on the radio (listening to a bit of culcha on Auntie I was).

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