It is a somewhat lopsided task to critique a concert performance of an opera. Even if the opera is a well-known piece – let alone a world premiere – there is so much ‘missing’ when compared to a full presentation.

Nevertheless, I quickly realised last night at Perth Concert Hall what a rare pleasure it is to be immersed in the orchestral world of an opera, how it ultimately functions as the shaper of the psychological and emotional landscape of the story and characters. Murray Bail’s dreamy and evocative 1998 novel Eucalyptus is ideal material for the sensuous eeriness of this opera’s musical language.

Eucalyptus. Image © Perth Festival

Jonathan Mills’ masterful orchestration is endlessly interesting; often exciting, frequently quirky and comical, sometimes visceral and moody. It’s a strange and wonderful score, not just technically brilliant, but also moving. My favourite element of the score is Mills’ fabulous use of a backstage and onstage chorus. In his notes, he writes that he was attempting to “explore a musical evocation of a chorus … as the inspiration for the trees themselves, their unique hues and tones textures and scents.” In this he is...