Apparently, she was the foundress of Naples.

On Tuesday to see Opera Australia’s production of the Handel opera. It’s a joint production with the ENO. It won an Olivier Award in London for “Best New Opera Production.”

Handel operas are apparently still a bit of a big ask in Sydney. If you go to the Opera Australia booking page you can see these days how many tickets are left, and frankly, it’s not very encouraging. Friday’s performance is no longer available, but I noted down the following figures for the remaining performances and made my own tally:

  Stalls Front (427) Stalls Rear (460) Circle & Loges (596) Total
23/3 68 181 293 542
26/3 0 56 29 85
28/3 76 266 347 689
31/3 98 272 315 685

That’s 2000 seats still for sale for 4 performances.

Incidentally, can you see the stand-out show?  It’s the matinee on the 26th.  They’re a loyal audience, that matinee audience.  There is a much better concession price for children at matinees but my guess (I hardly ever go to matinees) is that it’s mostly the forced loyalty of the elderly who can’t manage to go out at night.   Good on them, though I doubt if they are going because they are an inherently more adventurous bunch than other opera-goers (that’s another aspect to the forced loyalty). 

It will be interesting to see whether Opera Australia chooses to follow the Sydney Symphony and tap into this audience on weekdays – it’s a trickier proposition than for the orchestra because the scheduling is harder, but it must surely come as the audience gets older.

But back to the opera.  Really, the production is the thing.  It’s mostly about spotting the reminiscences of Man Ray photographs.  I didn’t buy a program so I can’t otherwise judge the dreaded (on account of what he did to Tosca) Mr Alden’s reason for the surrealist slant.  Maybe this is very unfair to Handel, but because I have few preconceptions about his operas, I’m pretty fine with their being treated as a regisseurial blank slate.

For me the music was enjoyable but, in the first act in particular, rather generic Handel.  It wasn’t until the second and third acts that he seemed to summon more piquant affects and orchestral effects. 

On Tuesday, Sian Pendry stood in for an indisposed Catherine Carby.  She did a good job, more than good enough, though obviously I have no way of knowing whether it would have been better with CC.  Otherwise, it’s very much a vehicle for Emma Matthews.  Jacqueline Dark was able to put her ample bosom to good use at the denouement (think: Das ist kein Mann!) and as the enraged spurned lover made a good impression (I mean: vocally but also by way of comic timing).  I don’t laugh so much as others when librettist Amanda Holden drops into vulgar colloquialisms (eg: “Don’t be a turd”), though I have no objection to them either (which is probably why I don’t find them particularly funny).  I thought that Christopher Field had come along quite a lot from when I last heard him, which I think was as Tolomeo in Giulio Cesare

This isn’t a role/roll call and I am not a critic, so I won’t go through the remainder of the cast, even though there are only 2 more.

I know that for some people, Handel operas can be too long.  That’s not a problem for me, because I take a nap before, and the music is always of a quality, even when generic Handel, that I can be entirely engaged by it.  The more music the better, so far as I am concerned.  It may even be that by the second and third acts I had just adjusted to the style of the production and the music, and so was able to appreciate something which I had at first felt as merely generic.

[Just in case I should be accused of elegant variation: generic generic generic generic generic…(usw)]

Given all those empty seats, I’d like to try to see it again to put that hypothesis to the test.

That will probably depend on budgetary considerations.  It is therefore self-interested of me to say that it is maddening to think of all those empty seats unsold at a price which, ipso facto, no-one will pay.

13 Responses to “Partenope

  1. wanderer Says:

    It’s a shame and maddening for more than yourself I’d wager. I think it is simply too expensive and yes, long, and I’m not sure that Emma Matthews has enough pull to overcome the combination of budget and inertia.

    The price thing hardly needs rehashing (poor economy of scale the real killer) but as you point out, empty seats return nothing.

    I can’t stop wishing they’d do some (semi) staged stuff in the concert hall (am I getting to rocking-chair-on-the-verandah stage of life?) and kick the budget along that way, instead of more popular classics but this time floating.

  2. marcellous Says:

    I don’t expect to go to see the floating opera: it’s a gimmick and an electro-acoustic bastard. It will be expensive: maybe they will make money from itbecause amongst other things the tickets can presumably be cheaper in an absolute sense because the audience capacity will be greater), but unless it really makes a heap of money I doubt it will be worth it in terms of the performances of real operas it will presumably preclude.

    Yes, the whole art form is impossibly expensive.

    I think the mix of money-making and loss-leading productions which has long been the approach to this is fine. It’s a matter of degree, of course.(Carmen and Madama Butterfly have been full or close-to, and Barber not so good – tho’ quite full the Saturday I went – but a long way ahead of Partenope.) But I just get annoyed when the loss-leaders are left to lose more out of pricing inertia. It’s not simply that empty seats return nothing but that the $100-odd per seat of government subsidy is wasted. If they sell another 500 tickets by season’s end, that will be $150K down the toilet, in a notional sense.* They shouldn’t just be being put on for the singers’ artistic development.

    *Notional because this probably isn’t a very expensive production: “company” singers, small orchestra, co-production. Obviously it all depends how you cook the books as to how you attribute the subsidy.

    I don’t know how well semi-staged stuff will work. It’s always hard to cross-over into different forms and markets, and it’s the orchestras who have that market, though they also need the opera’s market if they are to do concert performances of opera.

    Funnily enough, there is a significant slice of the orchestral audience who will actually stay away if there is a vocal work, especially an opera – some people have an antipathy to the classically produced voice with vibrato – they prefer the crooning-type thing (for men, that is) which comes with the microphone. The MSO’s excellent concert performances of Otello under Caetani 2 or 3 years ago were woefully undersubscribed.

    I would prefer a concert or semi-staged opera to the V-Ashkenazy vogue for plays with incidental music, but then they would have to spend more money on their vocalists than the SSO has bothered to do with these.

  3. marcellous Says:

    PS: update (c. 3 pm Sat) for Partenope Wed 23/3:

    67, 181, 291, 539.


    Carmen (Tues 22/3) 1 seat only.
    Barber (Mon 21/3 – maybe a youth series concert?) 181, 202, 25 (Loges only), 408
    (Thurs 24/3) 226, 297, 71 [notice: the cheaper seats sell!], 524 – and this is an old production.
    [I’ve chosen weekdays. Tonight’s Barber is 40,118,34.]

    Other conclusion: rear stalls are relatively overpriced unless the show is very popular indeed.

  4. wanderer Says:

    I was more thinking of OA (off their subscriber base) playing to 2000 in the Concert Hall, not the SSO, and I think you know how I feel about the V A’s vogue although I felt the Peer Gynt very well done. Edo did the Ring to reasonably full houses though topped up by the Ring Heads no doubt.

    Specifically I recall packed houses for (Sydney Festival) Turandots (Hunter/Collins/Carden/Cilario admittedly). Extend that idea to any number of works to keep the audience numbers, and education, from stalling. Nor do I think the Melbourne (or any other) Ring likely to change the subscriber base.

    Anyway, is there any house in the world (excluding Festivals like Salzburg and Bayreuth) whose (non discounted) ticket prices start at $105 and end at $280 (and with discount for students, oldies and tots are still an indigestible $95 to $252). Who can afford that?

    For me it was basically Bartoli or Partenope, so I did smile (though think inference on the part of the reviewer a bit naughty) at the last sentence of this review.

  5. marcellous Says:

    Indeed (as to naughty inference in the linked review). After all, she did have a concert to give the next afternoon. Actually, there was some audience thinning through the night I went.

  6. marcellous Says:

    Update 22/3:

    23/3 63 155 272 490.

    One of the sales in the meantime is to me.

  7. wanderer Says:

    Just by way of specifics, here’s a quote from another forum – top price for an international Lucia in Berlin 84 euros, compared to cheapest (and that means lousy seats) in Sydney $105 ~

    ” have only just noticed that Calleja will sing three performances of Lucia at the
    Deutsche Oper in Berlin next month (6, 10, 24) and if sings like he did at the Met, it will be well worth seeing. The Lucia is the internationally very under-exposed Elena Mosuc, a first class singer. The production is by Filippo Sanjust, just about as traditional as you could get. There are plenty of tickets, and top price only 84 euros.”

  8. marcellous Says:

    Now it’s

    53, 176, 279 508.

    W: The secret to those prices, of course, is the subsidy. OA gets an enormous subsidy by Australian standards (roughly, in 2010, $23M grants versus $34M box office) but not by European standards.

  9. wanderer Says:

    And Gina Rinehart is alleged to have a personal worth of the order of 9 billion.

  10. marcellous Says:

    mmmmmm, W

    Point taken: OA’s state subsidy isn’t big compared to that – but it’s enormous compared to other arts subsidies, and tiny compared to the European companies’ whose ticket prices you refer to.

    I think we are in furious agreement here.

    I don’t think of Gina as a big opera fan. Equally, come the revolution (hah!) I doubt if her [alleged] billions would be redirected towards opera.

  11. Partenope 2 « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] Stumbling on melons « Partenope […]

  12. Ann Says:

    Went to Partenope on Tuesday (wanted to hear a new opera but not a great fan of baroque style). Good view of the action in $105 seat at front. Moved back to see surtitles as a few empty seats. Act 1 funny and promising; Act 2 humourless (or toilet humourless) and thought it on a downhill slide so didn’t stay for Act 3 but regretted it as later re-read review and realised I’d missed Kanen Breen’s yoga moves and impression vocal gymnastics too.

  13. marcellous Says:

    Ann: pity you didn’t stay for Act III. It’s not as long as the program timing given out by OA threatens and it’s rewarding for more than just Kanen Breen performing impossible feats (yet again).

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