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13 March, 2008

Arabella at Sydney Opera House

ArabellaCheryl Barker
MandrykaPeter Coleman-Wright
ZdenkaEmma Matthews
MatteoRichard Roberts
Herr WaldnerConal Coad
Frau WaldnerMilijana Nikolic
Fortune tellerJacqueline Dark
Fiakamilli (cabaret artist)Lorina Gore
DirectorJohn Cox
ConductorRichard Hickox

Sydney Opera House

Friday 7th March 2008

Dear Readers,

Not many operas call for two high-octane sopranos. Arabella needs three. Sadly, this is not an opera I am able to engage with either musically or dramatically. The casting is strong (the Met used Te Kanawa AND Battle in 1983!). Apart from American tenor Richard Roberts, they were all Australasian. And each performed to a high standard in a production which was sympathetic if sparse in sets and props. Rather than a full room, the designer cleverly used a grand raised stand-alone entrance door, half a window, drapes and metre of ornate cornice to indicate location (and save money). Likewise, a ballroom was indicated by a magnificent centre-piece, circular settee, a few peripheral tables around a revolving stage set with black surrounds. A rather ordinary angled mezzanine staircase in Act III hotel lobby twisted slightly at the end to become a double ‘stairway to heaven’ for the lovers: a splendid coup-de-theatre for the finale.

I was moved by the act I duet with Barker and Matthews, however I find most of the music unapproachable. The silly story (it IS opera) revolves around small minded, self-centred sexist motives which contrast markedly with the progress which has been made in women’s liberation in the decades since the opera was written. It was all the more poignant on the eve of International Women’s Day.

With the company’s talents on display in this ‘connoisseur’s opera’, the audience showed their appreciation in a frenzy of clapping and bravos. Finally, for the conductor’s curtain call, there was stomping like an earthquake. The season of 5 performances is apparently booked out (try Melbourne next month). I heard that Richard Hickox was ill with a virus for the second performance on the 11th with Lionel Friend on the podium receiving a more reserved ovation to another full house.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..