Opera Australia 2013

Opera Australia’s 2013 series was announced yesterday.  Before the formal announcement, the big glossy brochure turned up in my letter box.

My own subscription set series is down to 6 operas and one operetta.  Under cover of the reduction in the number of operas, the ticket price has quietly been lifted by 13%.

The Sydney season is billed as a “Verdi Festival.”  That means (Verdi unless otherwise indicated):

  • A Masked Ball – new international co-production by La Fura dels Baus.
  • La Boheme – (Puccini)  only 18 months since it was last on.  Have they no shame?
  • Il Trovatore – the dorsal nudity production – can Jin Tea Kim repeat his pushups?  He’s not getting any younger.   Arvo Volmer conducts.  I’m contemplating swapping my ticket for Boheme for this.
  • Falstaff – the production with the laughable (not in the right way) last act.  Warwick Fyfe, a man who almost cannot help being funny (though not always in a way which I would think of as Falstaffian), takes the title role.  Andrew Jones steps up as Ford.  Generational change going on here: Michael Lewis, as far as I can make out, only gets a gig as Vicar Gedge in Albert Herring next year.
  • Orpheus in the Underworld – (Offenbach) first staged in 2003; presumably some of the topical references will need to be updated and possibly the characterisation of “Public Opinion” – originally a kind of Pauline Hanson figure.  My heart sank when I saw that Todd McKenney was to be the selling point as Aristeus/Pluto.  This will of course be amplified.  There is a charming scene with boys on scooters as the “love police.”
  • La Forza del Destino – new production, probably the most strongly cast.
  • Don Pasquale – (Donizetti) new production; Conal Coad in the title role; Ji-Min Park (the curly-headed Korean Rodolfo who sparked some rather odd meditations by Terracini about ethnic styles of acting) returns as Ernesto; Rachelle Durkin.  This is apparently sponsor Dr Handa‘s choice.  Guillaume Tournaire conducts.
  • Tosca – (Puccini) – back to traditional after the mish-mash of the last production, which I for one wasn’t so keen on.  Strong casting (TMKizart/Cheryl Barker; Yonghoon Lee/Diego Torre; Wegner reprising bari-villainy).  Nicholas Milton is one of the conductors.
  • La Traviata – the Moshinsky production (als last seen in 2011 and on the harbour this year); Emma Matthews.
  • Albert Herring – Britten; Anthony Legge gets a gig as conductor.  Revival of John Cox production first seen in 1976 (when Lyndon Terracini was Sid).  Kanen Breen succeeds (again) Graham Ewer in the title role.  I don’t think he wears a dress, but perhaps he can work that in somehow.

The opera season finishes at the end of August.  All of September and October are then taken up with South Pacific.

That means less opera.  That’s my main criticism of the season, and that together with the splurge on Verdi the remainder of the repertoire (apart from 5 performances of Albert Herring) is Italian.

I’m the first to concede that the powers that be for Opera Australia face a perpetual task of squaring the circle.  I just wish they could go about that with less spin and talking up.  For example, anticipated complaint about there being fewer operas is pre-emptively brushed aside with the answer that there are more performances. I also find Lyndon Terracini’s strike back (and sometimes even strike first) approach to criticism pretty tiresome.  Some of his stuff about democracy and egalitarianism certainly rings pretty hollow now.  Instead, plutocracy and corporatism is all the go.

Terracini brags about raising the company’s turnover to $100 million – but $100 million made up of what?  This figure includes the Melbourne Ring, the Handa Carmen on the harbour, and another month and a half next year in Sydney of South Pacific.  The first of these is practically unavailable to ordinary opera-goers; the second is a big-night-out novelty item (and it certainly didn’t lure many back into the Opera Theatre for, say, Pearl Fishers) and the third – well, it isn’t opera.  At least it is priced accordingly.

The real problem about putting on fewer operas is that it makes squaring the circle harder.  In a country with one “national” company and in Sydney, a city with just one opera company (pace Pinchgut), it leads to a curtailment of the repertoire.

I’m getting pretty close to giving up subscribing.  The company may flourish (as we are assured and the various low-grade press-release-regurgitating “journalists” repeat: I have my doubts: a musician friend told me that an advertised and successfully auditioned-for and tried-out-for permanent violin position turned into an offer of a temporary contract gig) but it looks like its target audience is a broader public looking for fewer but more familiar one-off big nights out.

A NYE gala performance of Boheme is in that spirit: how the orchestra is going to manage that and the Concert Hall do simultaneously is a mystery to me. 

Given the consistently full houses for the present Saturday matinees, a new four-opera Sunday matinee series is a canny innovation.

8 Responses to “Opera Australia 2013”

  1. Yvonne Frindle (@frindley) Says:

    I believe this is the first report I’ve encountered that makes any proper mention of conductors. :) The SMH account was particularly lacking and also managed to claim an opera directing debut for John Bell, despite him directing The Rake’s Progress for Victorian Opera just a few months ago and Don Giovanni for the Australian Opera back in 1974. The irony is there’s an article in the SMH’s own files that refers to him doing his third opera production in connection with the Stravinsky.

    • marcellous Says:

      I wasn’t being comprehensive, just the ones of more particular interest to me. But it has to be said that OA doesn’t make much of its conductors, generally.

  2. Robert Woodley Says:

    It’s another step down the descent to no opera in Sydney. I would have said until this weekend that it was a QPAC season but Brisbane has just shamed Sydney with a “world class” Mahler 2 and Rheingold, and in their two theatres which sound great unlike the Sydney “Opera” House.

  3. marcellous Says:

    Robert, I’m not sure if one city (Brisbane) can really shame another city (Sydney) by importing high-quality performances from a third city (Hamburg). As to the venue, the opera theatre is not a satisfactory theatre, but that is something which must be dealt with, and for which Opera Australia can hardly be blamed.

    I’m more concerned about how they are managing with what they’ve got. Apart from what I’ve said in the post already, it is a bit disappointing that Force of Destiny and Masked Ball represent the limits of what the company is prepared to venture even in a Verdi festival year.

  4. You’ve got to have a dream « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] still regret that this is at the expense of two months’ worth of actual […]

  5. Ken N Says:

    Though I studied law many years ago, I realise I don’t know the precise meaning of pace. After some research, I think that in colloquial language it means “shut up”. So, shut up Pinchgut.
    It that what you mean, M?

    Anyway, as I know you know, Sydney has several other opera companies, all doing pretty interesting work.

    • marcellous Says:


      Yes there are other opera companies in Sydney but I confess I haven’t heard them for a while – even the Rockdale Light Opera Company. Some are rather one-off chamber affairs (as with the Kafka gang at NIDA earlier this year), some are really I think student or maybe ‘prentice ventures (Pacific) and few can mount a run with an orchestra and the full accoutrements.

      I’ve never thought of the literal meaning or sense of pace as I used it: I suspect the “peace!” sense, if that is what it is (and it must be) is by way of a pre-emptive prevention by acknowledgement of an objection or exception – ie, “apart from” or “not taking into account whatever claims may be advanced on behalf of….” and I find my old COD (not cash on delivery) says it is from the ablative of pax, meaning, when announcing a contrary opinion, with all due respect and deference to that opinion.

  6. Part-time Opera company | Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] Dark news from Opera Australia, the company which saved money last year by axing 7 positions from the permanent establishment of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra – something I referred to at an anecdotal level here. […]

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