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04 October, 2007

Mid-season Hoffmann hits highs. Plus some theatre reservations

I returned to Contes d’Hoffmann last night and was pleasantly surprised at the number of goose bumps so obtained.

The quirky new production by Maunder and Kirk compliments the opera and has moments of beauty and humour amongst its moral messages.

One must marvel at the resilience of Emma Matthews and Rosario La Spina in going straight into the Venice act from Olympia’s Doll scene. There are now strong occupational and health rules in the orchestra pit. It is about time that singers were given similar protections. There should be two intervals (not one!) and maybe the Antonia act should precede Giulietta (the composer apparently died before finalising the work).

Ms Matthews is at the peak of her powers and is equal to these four roles (if we count Stella). She sang her Olympia Doll Song to President Bush in an APEC spectacular 3 weeks ago.

Rosario La Spina sings with a ‘can belto’ tenor gusto rarely heard in this country (or anywhere, for that matter). He also uses a tender cantabile when needed and I found him the strength of the opera. His French is excellent. One wondered at times if he would be able to keep up the pace but he always landed the notes on the mark and I am sure people at the back heard every phrase.

In what must either be nepotism or coincidence, Mrs Hickox (the Muse, nee Pamela Helen Stephen, wife of Mr Hickox the conductor and musical director of the company) sings two ‘new’ arias - one towards the end of the Antonia scene and one in the epilogue. Neither is particularly important to the story and the second is rather confusing, changing the tantalizing but remote gay interpretation to a tangible character who is obviously male, with a man’s name, played by a woman, dressed and groomed as a woman in this production. While Stephen is a competent artist, one wonders how she will handle the demands of Carmen next year.

John Pringle has been singing with the company for two generations of opera goers. He showed his finesse and flexibility by ably playing the three roles of Luther, tavern keeper, Spalanzani and Mr Crespel, Antonia’s father.

I have also heard Il Trittico again two weeks ago and was delighted with the productions, singers and orchestra. Now that the Puccini season is over, we look forward to Wagner’s Tannhauser next Monday. The Gondoliers also continues as seems remarkably fresh after almost 20 years of re-runs. It is high time the company did Yeoman of the Guard or perhaps Princess Ida.

So patronise or perish! We are lucky to have an opera company in Sydney and its future is not assured unless we make use of it. So (for Sydney-siders or visitors): JUST BUY A TICKET!!! For those without large resources, there are perfectly reasonable cheap D reserve tickets to every performance, but you have to insist at the box office. The price of such ‘restricted view’ seats has increased inordinately in recent years – which is ludicrous considering their unpopularity (I have not seen them full since Sutherland days).

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..