Brian Howard


Opera Australia Scenery Workshop, The Opera Centre, Dawson St, Surry Hills

New production

Gregor is a broken man, exhausted by eternal work and an ungrateful family. Until one morning, he awakes, and is not a man at all.

Kafka’s grotesque tragedy of a man turned insect is an engrossing story. Music adds an edgy intensity: Metamorphosis as opera is riveting, shattering, morbidly fascinating theatre.

Brian Howard’s score is percussive, inventive and courageous. Twelve musicians and six singers ratchet up the horror and pathos of this work: a story of social alienation in a modern, inhuman world.

Director Tama Matheson and designer Mark Thompson focus their creative talents on an unusual stage. This chamber opera will take place in the Opera Australia scenery workshop — that magical space where castles, tombs and salons rise from piles of plywood. This season, it becomes a performance space, where a talented cast perform this contemporary piece.

Simon Lobelson performs the demanding role of Gregor and Paul Fitzsimon conducts.


“But what if all the quiet, the comfort, the contentment were to end in horror?”

By Franz Kafka
Adapted by Steven Berkoff
Music by Brian Howard
Conductor Paul Fitzsimon
Director Tama Matheson
Set & Costume Designer Mark Thompson
Lighting Designer John Rayment
Gregor Simon Lobelson
Greta Julie Lea Goodwin
Father Christopher Hillier
Mother Taryn Fiebig
Chief Clerk Adrian Tamburini
Lodger Benjamin Rasheed

Opera Australia Orchestra Soloists

Running time: approximately 1 hour & 46 minutes, without interval.

The StoryHide

When Gregor wakes up, he knows something is wrong. Is he sick? Exhausted? Could it be something worse?

He has transformed into something monstrous.

Gregor and his family grapple with their horror and confusion as he works out how to live in his new skin.

We begin: as Gregor Samsa woke one morning from uneasy dreams… Uneasy indeed, because during the night he had been transformed into a giant insect!

Scene i

Gregor had been an amiable young man who carried the burden of providing for his family: Father, a selfish man, ill and unemployed; Mother, doting and effectual; and Greta, his adoring sister. Gregor travelled in the cloth trade, friendless, abused by his employer: a most dehumanising existence. And yet there are hints of enterprise, even of personality, struggling to emerge.

One morning he fails to appear for the early train. The family panic. What will the Chief Clerk say?

Gregor remains calm enough to try to solve each problem in turn. Above all, he must learn to master his new physical form: legs, belly, carapace.

The Chief Clerk arrives, seeking the truant. Gregor refuses to unlock his door as they try to coax him out. After great effort, he makes an appearance. The others are horrified. The Chief Clerk flees in terror.

Gregor’s pleas for help and understanding fall on deaf ears. He retreats to his room.

Scene ii

Gregor and his family try to come to terms with the situation. Accusations are made, reflecting the guilt and shame each is feeling, none more so than Gregor himself. Greta takes the role of caring for Gregor.

Even she, however, finds the creature repulsive. Gregor’s attempts to communicate are a failure.

Scene iii

Father is strutting pompously in the uniform of his new job as a bank messenger. He leaves for work.

Gregor’s presence in the next room is becoming a fearful influence on their lives. He has begun to revel in his new form, and is taking perverse pleasure in moving about, insect-like, over the walls and ceiling.

Mother and son yearn for each other’s company and comfort. Mother and Greta remove Gregor’s furniture, making his existence even more unencumbered. Feeling the loss of his last vestiges of humanity, he tries to prevent them. Father returns and in his rage hurls apples at Gregor. The women are horrified. Gregor, badly injured, returns to his room, hurt by Father’s apparent transformation.

Scene iv

Greta, like Gregor before her, is trying to improve herself by studying. Father has returned to his slovenly ways and is scornful of her efforts. Mother is concerned that the apple embedded in Gregor’s back has become infected.

Scene v

Gregor is now quite ill and is unable to eat the scraps they feed him. He is living in filth. Mother and Greta wish to help him, but Father has already disowned his son: he is nothing but a dung-beetle.

Gregor has a vision of former days: Father whips him, as the whole family scream at him and demand greater efforts in his work. The family seem unmoved by his plight. Finally, mother, impotent and hypocritical, takes him in hand with the promise of better things to come.

Scene vi

In need of money, the Samsas take a supercilious and demanding lodger. They fear he will encounter Gregor. Greta is practising the violin, rather badly. The lodger, nevertheless, is delighted.

Gregor, jealous, appears before the lodger, who is not shocked but merely disgusted. Threatening legal action for the danger to his health, he leaves without paying his rent. Greta, finally, disowns her brother: if the creature really was Gregor, he would have been more considerate. It must be disposed of. Gregor retreats again, this time to die.

The family sense the coming of spring. Father and Mother become aware of Greta’s beauty, the influence of her pubescence. She is undertaking a transformation of her own. Perhaps a suitable husband could be the solution to all their problems.

"an evocative production"

★★★ – TimeOut

"an impressive revival"

★★★★ – Limelight

"a chance [...] to marvel at the extraordinary talent of some of the countrys' most exceptional singers " 

Australian Arts Review


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