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15 January, 2009

Cav and Pag compete favourably with Sydney Festival.

Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci at the Sydney Opera House Sat 10th Jan 2009

Cavalleria Rusticana - Mascagni
Turiddù - Dennis O’Neill
Santuzza - Nicole Youl
Mama Lucia - Jaqueline Dark
Alfio - Jonathan Summers
Lola - Domenica Matthews

I Pagliacci - Leoncavallo
Tonio - Jonathan Summers
Canio - Dennis O’Neill
Nedda - Amelia Farrugia
Peppe - Stephen Smith
Silvio - José Carbo
Directed by Andrew Sinclair
Sets by Shaun Gurton
Conductor Andrea Licata

Dear Colleagues,

Renowned baritone Jonathan Summers provided the dramatic and to some extent the vocal focus for this pair of immaculate thriller operas. He demonstrated a staggering depth of character, volume and texture of vocal line and showed what it is to be a star of the operatic stage. At the end of his moving prologue aria “Si puo?“ he nailed an A flat which seemed unassailable.

His tenor counterpart in both operas was Welshman Dennis O’Neill who showed equal mastery of the art. Again, there were fast, slow, high and low to show off his prodigious talents, nowhere more so than in the clown’s dressing-room aria, ‘Vesti la giubba’.

Ms Youl was ideally suited to the role of Santuzza. Her ‘Regina cœli’ and ‘Ineggiamo’ scene was high art indeed with the freeze/flashback very cleverly staged using blacked out rear and fly lighting with linear precision indicating pews in a church. The return to the village square and conversation between the excommunicated and mother in law seemingly seamless.

Ms Farrugia played a suitable Nedda and had all it takes dramatically and vocally even though the role is unlike her usual (everyone has to be adaptable in this day and age). Ms Domenica Matthews played a sexy and detached Lola.

Village lover Silvio was played brilliantly by Jose Carbo. This smaller role is often left to a lesser talent but Mr Carbo looked the part in white poplin, his voice coming over as confident, even and large, befitting his engagement at La Scala this year.

I had forgotten that after the scripted bloodshed, Canio stabs himself at the end of I Pagliacci which was an added dramatic shock to an action-packed evening of opera.

Mr Licata conducted with gusto and flair with all points going to the woodwinds and the prominent scoring especially for flute and bassoon. I must say that again there were jarring noises from the brass, evidently the trumpet section on several occasions and one wonders if there is a problem there needing attention.

I note from the new season schedule that the company is still calling on singers to do major roles with only one day’s break on occasions. Nobody in the company seems to heed history, medical and occupational health experts, singing teachers or agents. The company gives … and the company takes away. It is like the editor’s decision being so very final. If our singers had a strong union like the orchestra this would never have been allowed to happen, at least not without serious danger money being paid.

It is hard to imagine that the opera company management has such entrenched problems when opera of this high standard is being put on. Yet operas are scheduled 2 to 3 years ahead of time … and the first two operas of the season are repeats of standard repertoire using known talents with little if any ‘risk’ or exposure.

Following the sudden death of maestro Richard Hickox in November, another untimely and tragic loss this past week will also impact upon opera in Australia with the passing of soprano Deborah Riedel after a long battle with cancer. Our sympathies and thoughts go to her family and friends at this difficult time.

Ms Riedel, 50, had prodigious talents in both dramatic and coloratura roles. Her stage skills were well honed and she had consistently favourable notices in her formidable international career. She sang in many of the great opera houses and worked with some of the world’s top talents including Jose Carreras, Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge. Despite this, and along with numerous other top Australian artists, Ms Riedel was engaged less and less by the national company in favour of a small group of younger, ‘safer’ and perhaps more amenable female singers. The opera company’s initial media release (since corrected) had Ms Riedel performing in the 50th anniversary gala concert when in fact she was in the audience. It is all very sad. Rest in peace. The funeral is on Friday morning.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

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