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19 October, 2008

Adequate La Boheme does not imply adequate management.

La Bohème, Sydney Opera House. Tuesday 14th October 2008.
Rodolfo - Carlo Barricelli
Mimi - Antoinette Halloran
Musetta - Amelia Farrugia
Marcello - José Carbó
Schaunard - Warwick Fyfe
Colline - Richard Anderson
Benoit/Alcindoro - John Bolton Wood
c. Ollivier-Philippe Cunéo

Dear Colleagues,
This non-subscription La Boheme outing went ‘without incident’. Most of the cast members were more than adequate and the performance seemed well rehearsed and balanced.
Australian tenor Carlo Barricelli had quite a success, with a ringing top to the voice if some slightly rough edges elsewhere and a couple of unimportant flat notes. He is a tall, well proportioned figure on stage, acting confidently with a good grip on this long and difficult role. Ms Halloran gave us a credible Mimi. Basso Mr Anderson sounded better than he did in Lucia - but I cannot condone singing the famous “Coat” aria seated on the toilet! Mr Carbo is almost too good for Marcello. This role should normally be done by an ‘up and coming’ baritone: Mr Carbo has definitely ‘arrived’ on the international scene and is to sing at La Scala in a few months. Needless to say he sang well, even if Puccini did not give him an aria. Warwick Fyfe sang with his usual gusto.

The company has given these young Bohemians the Herculean task of singing four acts with only one intermission … as well as six performances with only one rest day between, rather than the two normally allowed. This sort of scheduling is dangerous and uncalled-for in my medical opinion. Does occupational health and safety not extend to vocal cords? After singing major performances endoscopy often shows oedema and inflammatory changes and these need time to resolve. Every opera singer is familiar with this ‘cycle’, yet few young singers can afford to refuse to sing, even excessively, when invited by the impresario. Management seems to forget that these roles were written as vocal ‘marathons’. I note that the recent Britten and Janacek performances conducted by Richard Hickox had an average 2.7 days between performances compared with 1.5 for the La Boheme company.

This demonstrates further the deep flaws of which the company stands accused in the media across the country in recent times. The casting of Pearlfishers, Cinderella, Don Giovanni and My Fair Lady was mostly unadventuresome, using local artists and hardly an international star singer between them. Yet Billy Budd had four international stars (Tahu Rhodes, Langridge, Hickox and Armfield) and two Australasian stars of the first order (Wegner and Coad) in the one opera!! This is obviously lopsided, biased and inconsistent. And great if you are a Britten fan but too bad for the rest.

The Tuesday night, near sell-out house seemed delighted with this performance of La Boheme. So the management will again justify themselves based on the profit line and audience response. Yet management has been derelict on so many fronts that it is tragic as it is indefensible. The Saturday Age newspaper has a major front page feature pointing to some of these deficiencies (see links below). Yet the musical director, general manager and the board chair have continued to deny any shortcomings which is unrealistic and self defeating in the circumstances. Sadly, soprano Cheryl Barker has moved from her regal neutrality by writing an uninsightful and blistering letter to the editor in support of current management while condemning ‘a few bitter and disgruntled people’. I have not found any independent expert opinion in favour of opera management recently. Something has to ‘give’.

To justify its large public grant, the company used to employ several dozen Australian soloist singers who could count on job security, buy a house, raise a family like the rest of us. Now all soloists are on short term contracts and there are no on-salary positions - except in administration.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..