New Opera Film: The Eternity Man

Back in 2003, Jonathan Mills (music) and Dorothy Porter (libretto) had their opera, "The Eternity Man" performed in London. The opera tells the story of Arthur Stace, a reformed petty criminal, World War One veteran and recovering alcoholic, who haunted Sydney's seedy bars and brothels until a revelation one night in a soup kitchen chapel. Stace then spent nearly 40 years chalking a timeless message on the city's streets: the single word, written in copper-plate, 'Eternity'.

It was part of the Opera Genesis Project of Covent Gardens (a worthy project IMHO), and although it wasn't favorably reviewed, it eventually made its way to Australia and is now to become a feature film by Julien Temple. According to many of the reviews, it didn't fare so well, being just over an hour but in many respects too long. The scoring is for unusual instruments, indicative of Mills work as he previous wrote an electro-acoustic dance opera, Ethereal Eye (1996) and the Sandakan Threnody which includes dance, video, soundscape, spoken narrative and pre-recorded music.

Grant Doyle, an Australian baritone, plays the lead Arthur Stace with Christa Hughes as Arthur's sister Myrtle Stace. Here is a sample of what's to come:

As you can see, the film intends to be the opera, but I suspect the libretto and music have been extended. Mick Hume of the TimesOnline has already provided a brief review of the film, "if I say that the best things about this musical epic were the background images of 20th-century Australia, you might get the picture. By the end of this Great Operatic Swindle, I was with Arthur's alcoholic whore of a sister, Myrtle, who swore never to be trapped “in your miserable paradise”. Amen to that.

AA Gill of the Sunday Times was no kinder. "Australian opera, of course, has a circle of cultural obscurity all of its own. It’s well matched with Temple, a director who has become an icon of chronic failure — the man who made dozens of tired and childishly offensive documentaries... The Eternity Man was well up to the standard of his CV."

Dorothy Porter died on December 10th last year.


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