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06 July, 2013

La Forza del Destino - Sydney Opera House: season opening, Sat 29th June

If you can get to see this opera this short season you will not be disappointed.  There are four excellent imported artists with three or four top-rate Australians in one of Verdis most melodic and melodramatic works.  It has one of the most inventive overtures every written, vying for equal place with Nozze di Figaro and Semiramide.  The production, sets & costumes are quite brilliant with an almost credible take on an unbelievable story.  Superbly conducted by Andrea Licata and with a top-rate orchestra and chorus you have a classy opera on a winters night in a classic building. 

Svetla Vassileva (Leonora) was top class with several 'tricks' including pianissimo broadening to forte with very long breath control.  Still not a unique voice but very pleasant quality and pin-point control and accuracy.  Fine looking woman with good acting abilities. 

Riccardo Massi (Don Alvaro) like so many tenors somewhat awkward.   Yet a gifted top, despite some ugliness in the delivery at times.  The black eyes and a tall, lumbering frame made him look like someone from the Adams Family.  Hard to imagine him trying to look handsome as the eloping party in the opening scene in which he goofed with the gun and accidentally killed his potential father-in-law (this is opera, ladies and gentlemen). 

As Don Carlo di Calatrava was veteran baritone Jonathan Summers in excellent form despite turning 67 this year he looks and sounds far younger that's another sign of a 'pro' in any field. 

Giacomo Prestia (Padre Guardiano) marvellous basso with the rest.  Hard to imagine anyone doing this role any better. 

Same could be said of Ms Rinat Shaham (Preziosilla) who pulled out all the stops as obviously demanded by the director, and some vocal risks to boot.  She has an effective trill and a high extension which was used well on all but one occasion with a slightly clipped ?B flat but no shame in that for a mezzo.  It is still surprising that an Australian could not have been available of the same or even better calibre. 

Warwick Fyfe was simply excellent dramatically and vocally with his booming almost blustering voice as the impatient, intolerant and irreverent monk Melitone. 

Despite enjoying this opera at the time, I am now feeling that we were lacking a star to raise the rest to an even higher level.  The singers were all very good but somehow there was a focus on accuracy, high notes, trills, etc but lacking a particular unique characteristic or rare beauty of voice, things which cannot be learned.  Someone with the accuracy, technique, projection ability PLUS distinct vocal beauty is automatically a star in my book we have not heard a real star in Sydney for a number of years now (is there an exception to this I wonder?).  Indeed such singers are quickly snapped up by the great opera houses and become the talk of the field, recordings, media darlings and sometimes mythology - Melba farewells and muck-singing for example. 

When people look back at the decades of the 20th century there were half a dozen in each who fitted the bill so such 'stardom' is a pretty rare commodity.  In the 1980s and 90s the Australian audience enjoyed Sutherland routinely but also heard Pavarotti, Leona Mitchell, Johan Botha, Lisa Connell, Sumi Jo, Regina Schorg, Donald McIntyre, Vinson Cole, Marilyn Zschau, Eva Marton, Carol Vaness, Peter Glossop, Sherril Milnes, Huguette Tourangeau, Marilyn Horne (concert only), Kiri Te Kanawa, Fiorenza Cossotto, Pilar Loringar, Regina Resnik and Angelo Marenzi (a very incomplete list). 

Like Tiger Woods with golf and all the other names one associates with the top people in tennis, athletics, football, etc.  Star quality is easy to recognise when it comes along, even by people who don't know much about ballet/sport/music, etc.  As a boy I once saw Richie Benaud bat from the hill at the SCG and it was entrancing and Im no cricket fan.  Part of the enjoyment is observing the reactions of other members of the audience, and likewise, bad vibes from neighbours can spoil what might otherwise be a perfectly creditable performance.  Most of all, stars pull in a new audience and Pavarotti was probably the most important star of our era to popularise opera as Callas, Caruso, Melba and other immortals did in the past. 

Am I expecting too much?  Of course I am.  I want a bigger hall with better acoustics.  I want bigger orchestra plus STAR quality opera singers.  And a free car park.

In the intermissions the administrative staff members all looked very pleased with themselves.  Yet it is their company which has now replaced over two months of traditional opera with musical comedy while also failing to produce many if any true international stars in their seasons until very recently.  The subscriber base has been contracting due to so much repetition of poor quality opera so now the company do not need to schedule so many opera performances ... it is a repeating cycle and one wonders where it will end. 

Looking forward to a new Tosca next week.  But I looked forward to the last two productions, too.  \
Notes by Andrew Byrne ..