Commissioned by the McLaren Vale Music Festival Association for the Coriole Music Festival
First performance by Elizabeth Campbell (mezzo-soprano) and Celia Craig (oboe), directed by Mitchell Butel, Coriole Music Festival, Coriole Vineyards, McLaren Vale, South Australia, 21 May 2022
Andrew Ford’s commissioned 25-minute work, The Blessing, sets a section from Nobel laureate JM Coetzee’s novel Elizabeth Costello – and what an ingenious piece it is. Perhaps best described as a solo operatic scena like La Voix Humaine or The Telephone, it is also a letter scene of sorts. Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Campbell has a long and distinguished history in opera and song and has more recently has been a great asset to State Opera South Australia as a character singer. Given her gifts and the fact that she is also around the same age as Coetzee’s Elizabeth, this performance was a true tour de force. Accompanied by the virtuosic oboe of Celia Craig, the two musical lines work on a number of levels, independently and in duet, highlighting and portraying a number of moods. The level of artistry involved by both was astounding, with them ducking, weaving and joining together in counterpoint was not only ingenious but also dramatically very appropriate. Praise should also go to the direction of Mitchell Butel, who presents the action simply and effectively. In his hands the audience sees Elizabeth at a simple laminated table on which there is a computer screen, thereby bringing the idea of the letter to the present day. With The Blessing, Ford and Coetzee have created something that is virtuosic, inventive and above all highly appealing.
Brett Allen-Bayes, Limelight
Ford’s The Blessing was a humorous, skittish mini monodrama that depicts Elizabeth Costello, author JM Coetzee’s fictional ageing writer, making a Zoom call to her sister Blanche – this was a neat way of updating her letter writing in the novel. In it she paraded out all her obsessions . . . but the interesting new element was how (mezzo-)soprano Elizabeth Campbell, taking the role of Costello, continually had to navigate between speech and song while Celia Craig held an independent melodic line on oboe. It was full of theatrical zest.
Graham Strahle, In Daily