Tag: Opera Australia

Aussies shine in the sludge

A couple of Aussie opera stars managed to salvage a wreck of a show presented by the much-praised Holland Park company this week.
Cheryl Barker and Julian Gavin took the lead roles in the rarely staged Francesca da Rimini by Riccardo Zandonai and received praise from Daily Telegraph opera critic Rupert Christiansen for being “terrifically committed and full blooded” in a work he described as “akin to wading through sludge”.
The 1914 opera has not been staged in Britain in living memory. Which is little surprise as Christiansen calls it nothing more than “wretched drivel” and hopes he’ll never hear a note of it again.
But at least Barker and Gavin survived this train wreck with honour. Seemingly one to avoid if it ever appears on the OA programme list.

Sleep Walking

Went to the opera tonight (La Sonnambula) and nothing happened. Action – nil; plot – zero minus. We had the usual Opera Australia problem of insisting on squeezing its massive chorus into the smallest spaces. A couple of leads had obviously undergone an acting bypass and the backdrop looked like a Bunnings version of a discount Sound of Music set, although the tilted revolve did have its moments of usefulness.
But all that can be forgiven. It was a magic night of seamless immaculate music, flowing forward under the baton of bel canto maestro Richard Bonynge. The voice of Emma Matthews will remain long in the memory as she went from strength to strength and finished the night off, literally, on a high note – and another high note, and another and …..
Little wonder that we saw that rare Melbourne phenomenom of a standing ovation for an Opera Australia production.
Plots and action rarely matter in opera, but it does usually help to have the semblance of a story to fill in the gaps between the arias. With La Sonnambula, they count for nothing; this is a simply a musical feast, flowing forward almost without a break from one magic moment to another.
Joshua Bloom (who would be out acted by the wooden horse of Troy) was in superb voice, as were Elizabeth Campbell, Taryn Fiebig and Jorge Lopez-Yanez. And the ever reliable Kanen Breen contributed another of his comic vignettes.
But it was Emma Matthews’ night, yet again. She is fast becoming the brightest star on the local opera scene for many a long year and long may she remain on our national company’s list.
Don’t miss it.

Not so blissful

The empty seats after interval and the lukewarm response at the end said it all: the opening night of Bliss was an underwhelming success. Australia’s newest opera, with music by local boy Brett Dean, didn’t exactly slay them in the aisles. Based on the novel by another Oz wunderkind, Peter Carey, the opera is a marvel of staging, a showpiece for the orchestra and a collection of bravura performances by individuals and chorus alike. But the totality fails to enthuse or enthrall. Two and a half hours of atonal music played at full pitch and volume eventually grates rather than grabs. The singing likewise seems to be forever at screaming pitch, with little light and shade; even in the rare tender moments.
The biggest failing, however, is that it is hard to find much empathy with, or sympathy for, the main protagonists. Even Harry Joy, who seeks redemption after a near death experience, fails to win our hearts. He’s just another opportunist ad man who seeks an easy way out by falling in love with a hooker. And his wife, son, daughter and business associates are simply a bunch of unlikeable sleazebags. The family name is the only joyful thing. Peter Coleman-Wright is superb in the lead role and there are stand-out performances by Merlyn Quaife, Barry Ryan, Kanen Breen and Lorina Gore.
The set deserves to take a bow: the three sides of the stage are an array of hundreds of light globes continually changing colour, pattern and wording to immense effect.
An interesting night and all praise to all those involved in bringing this huge creative undertaking to fruition. Go, see and be proud of the talent it showcases. But don’t expect to remember a single note.

Tosca triumphant

Wow! An opera with zing, excitement, pizzazz and all those other qualities that have so often been missing from Opera Australia’s begrudging offerings to Melbourne audiences. Suffice to say the Tosca that opened in the State Theatre last night under the Opera Australia banner is an Opera North production from the UK.
Like other productions from this company, Puccini’s masterpiece has been taken out of the time and place with which most of us are familiar.
Gone are all the ornate and plush settings, vaulted rooms, massive drapes and castle battlements. The entire piece takes place in a grotty cellar within the church where Cavaradossi and Tosca hold their fateful assignations. Posters for the shameful Berlosconi’s political party line the walls.The evil Scarpia (and there is none more wicked than the version provided here by John Wegner) is a seedy cop with two even seeder, and equally sinister, sidekicks looking like latter-day Colombos. The sacristan posts up the lottery numbers for the congregation to check their tickets. A gaoler comes eqipped with electrical leads for applying torture.
It is billed as a cross between Beckett and Tarantino, with maybe a touch of Scorsese and it is a modernisation that never disappoints. The singing is excellent. Who could not be thrilled by Nicole Youl‘s strong and vibrant voice. or by the lyrical and equally powerful arias of Rosario La Spina – a singer still youthful with his best years still to come?
It’s a real thriller on all counts – a great opening to a promising season.