The Lepidopters: A Space Opera, Sunday 13th April, Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall

by Jennifer Bryce


A space opera? I had been going to query whether ‘opera’ is the right description for this amazingly engrossing conjugation of art forms. I checked the Macquarie Dictionary and indeed, ‘opera’ is an extended dramatic composition in which music is an essential and predominant factor. The Lepidopters certainly fits this description. Music is central – music from the Astra Choir, from a specially constructed Sedulur Gamelan and music from the rock group Punkasila and Slave Pianos (including well-known local piano virtuoso Michael Kieran Harvey).

We sit, confronted by the huge Sedulur Gamelan housed in two wooden structures – it was displayed in the recent Melbourne Now exhibition.

I think the original story was inspired by work of science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick – this text is written by Mark von Schlegell. Lepidoters are alien minds that occupy and breed moths on earth-like planets. The lepidopters have fallen in love with Cheryl in Indonesia and they want to breed with her – interspecies reproduction.

This is where spectacular video art comes in. There are screens at each end of the hall – at first one is unsure where to look. The images on both screens are the same. We see threatening spirals spinning across the sea to the shores of Indonesia like a swarm of hurricanes. We see a 1970s style motel on the coast – and I assume the young woman there is Cheryl. The video images pervade the whole experience.

Oratorio style, there is a kind of narrator who stands on high and keeps us in touch with the story-line.

Within a matter of hours (I was far too taken up with the whole experience to have any idea of how long it actually took) different cultures are blended together – east and west, and historical times – Christian texts, Goethe, Schutz and Schumann.

I walked out of the Town Hall rather dazed, pleasantly confused and exhausted. The story itself can hardly be described as uplifting. It reminded me of On the Beach, with which I renewed acquaintance over Christmas. But I did feel exhilarated from having been swept up in such an affirming creation that dissipated the barriers of different art forms and cultures.