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01 November, 2012

Rodelinda in Sydney under Bonynge

Rodelinda - Handel (1725) J. Sutherland & R. Bonynge Foundation
City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney Sat 20th Oct 2012 7pm
Conducted by: Maestro Richard Bonynge AC CBE

Rodelinda: Valda Wilson
Bertarido: Fiona Janes
Grimoaldo: John Longmuir
Eduige: Liane Keegan
Unulfo: Lorina Gore
Garibaldo: Michael Lewis

Dear Colleagues in opera,

Sydney was treated to two stunning opera performances in the same week. It was more like New York! Richard Bonynge conducted the Australian premiere of Rodelinda (and possibly his last opera in the country). Lucia is the other (see my notes elsewhere).

Rodelinda was performed by Joan Sutherland on three separate occasions during her long career. The opera has been brought to a mass audience after centuries of neglect with Renee Fleming and the Metropolitan opera as well as live cinema sessions. Rodelinda lacks the extremely well-known melodies which crop up in so many other Handel operas. The story is complex and less than credible, starting with Queen Rodelinda mourning her deceased husband, Bertarido. Later in Act I the king, sung by Fiona Janes, miraculously returns from the dead to continue the complicated narrative. With only one duet and a quintet finale, the opera largely consists of marvellous individual
Handelian stand-and-deliver recitatives and arias from two sopranos, a mezzo, contralto, tenor and a baritone. There is no chorus.
In this first Australian performance, all the performers sang with consummate skill, navigating Handels fiendishly difficult coloratura, high notes, extreme low notes and ornamented da capo endings. Unlike when Joan Sutherland sang it, in this performance it would be hard to choose one star.

The much lauded diva Joan Carden was present in the audience to hear fine soprano performances from Ms Wilson and Ms Gore, each with pleasing vocalism and the necessary fioritura.

Ms Janes, well known to Sydney opera fans, gave an exemplary performance the accuracy and beauty of her fine voice is much missed by many Australian Opera goers.

Ms Keegan possesses a unique voice, a glorious true contralto. In the audience was one of Australias greatest contralto singers, Lauris Elms.

The young tenor John Longmuir sang with confidence and distinction and shows much promise. I had only heard him sing individual arias previously but here he seemed more relaxed and in perfect control in a full length opera.

It was good to hear veteran Michael Lewis using his fine baritone voice to advantage. While he sang some excellent showpieces, he alone was omitted from the marvellous finale ensemble Dopo la notte oscura’ (he had been killed by the king).

Maestro Bonynge with his small but accomplished orchestra accompanied with the formal conventions and limited metronomic freedoms expected of the baroque period. Sharolyn Kimmorley played harpsichord while her husband Brett Berthold played double bass. Jane Rutter was on flute with the Lyric Orchestra. Concertmaster was Adrian Keating from the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra. I hope that there was a representative of Opera Australia present to hear the excellent talents on offer.

The audience was almost as interesting as the show as many Sydney opera fans came out of the woodwork - and some had travelled far distances to hear this work with these artists. It is hard to go anywhere cultural and not run into Senator Bronwyn Bishop. Guests of honour included the Premier, Governor and Governor General.

The ovation was remarkable and respectful. Richard Bonynge received a spontaneous standing ovation when arriving on the podium before a note had been sounded. There was almost no clapping during the three acts - more like a concerto than an opera - which was convenient as ABC Radio was recording proceedings for future broadcast. We were witnessing the end of a glorious era of opera which began with the Sutherland Williamson Grand Opera Tour of 1965. It was most moving and there were red roses for the cast and tears all round.

I also had the good fortune to revisit Lucia di Lammermoor at the Sydney Opera House on Wednesday 24th October. It was sensational and is highly recommended with one or two remaining performances. My more detailed notes on the web site.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

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