In its first staging in over 100 years, an operatic rarity is nearing the end of its production run. Hailed as a landmark Australian opera and “ultra-modern” for its day, Stella by George Marshall-Hall (1862-1915) was revived by Lyric Opera of Melbourne in four performances at the David Williamson Theatre, Prahran.
The surprise is how little discussion it generated. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Michael Shmith gave the production three stars and described Marshall-Hall’s score as “highly romantic” with reminders of Puccini and Mascagni. Stage Whispers’ Graham Ford said that while Stella is an “obscurity”, it nevertheless contains “a couple of beautiful arias” for the title character and “some lovely ensembles” that make it worthy of being heard.
But that is about where critical reaction began and finished. Aside from a one-day symposium on Marshall-Hall ahead of the production, the work caused barely a ripple of discussion. Perhaps its Edwardian aesthetic embarrassed some, but here one thinks was an opportunity for some robust discussion about Australia’s voice in early twentieth century composition and Stella’s part in this.
Meanwhile, the last opera that Marshall-Hall wrote, Romeo and Juliet (1912), which has never been performed aside from its balcony scene, looks doomed to complete obscurity. Detailed research about the composer is contained in Marshall-Hall’s Melbourne: Music, Art and Controversy 1891-1915, edited by Thérèse Radic and Suzanne Robinson (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2012), and excerpts from Stella can be heard here.