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08 September, 2013

Sumptuous Traviata sizzles at season’s end.

La Traviata Thursday 22nd August 2013 Sydney Opera House. 

Dear Colleagues,

My last opera for the Sydney winter season was La Traviata.  (I am NOT going to South Pacific although I am sure it will be excellent).  A knowledgeable friend had contended that Emma Matthews had a small voice so I made a point of sitting towards the rear of the theatre (back seats of Loge Y - and they only cost $44 each).  Ms Matthews’ voice filled the hall perfectly well and her delivery was faultless.  She injected sex appeal [sic], impishness, vulnerability and despondency as required by the drama.  She also used a phenomenally difficult coloratura at the end of Act I and lasted the distance to a tragic demise in Act III. 

By contrast the tenor playing Alfredo was barely adequate.  Martin Buckingham was promoted from the opera chorus and despite a valiant effort was clearly in difficulties from the start.  I recall Vinson Cole calling this part a 'killer role'.  If only Mr Buckingham had not attempted two unwritten high notes he may have got away with it.  He cracked on an optional high note in the off-stage section at the end of Act I.  Then in Act II he then sang a fine 'De miei bollenti spiriti' but attempted the optional high note at the end of the cabaletta which was strangulated, curtailed and ugly. 

I was a little surprised that the company chose Shane Lowrencev as Baron Duphol who plays the close guardian of Violetta in the party scene.  Having been cast in major principal roles he was now reduced to this comprimario part, which he sings perfectly well.  However, it was hard to overlook the singular difference in height between the diminutive soprano and Mr Lowrencev who must measure near 2 metres.

Along with the soprano and marvellous production by Elijah Moshinsky, another strength of the evening was the velvet baritone singing of Jose Carbo as father Germont.  He looked and sounded every bit the part and it is surprising that we don’t hear him more often in our opera seasons.  He should just be signed up on a serious retainer but the company just does not do that any more. 

Patrick Lange conducted a professional orchestra with traditional tempi and not drawing attention unnecessarily to either himself or his band.  The opera chorus also sang and acted well in the cramped conditions of the Sydney opera stage. 

Another good night at the opera.  We are privileged indeed to have an opera company at all in far off Australia although it is depressing to think that the seasons are now so depleted from the ‘golden years’ of the 1980s, 90s and so on.  And not much changes with the new season announcement, sad to say.  To learn that Carmen is featured would make many subscribers groan so often have we seen this opera.  Some of the main drawcards are not actually opera performances at all.  There is a Sunday evening concert by German tenor Jonas Kaufman (top seats are $350).  Yet we will be denied Mr Kaufman’s great attribute, being his intense stage presence and acting in an opera.  Even at his absolute prime Luciano Pavarotti sang three performances (of La Boheme) with our opera company.  Likewise dozens of the world’s top singers.  Other "side-shows" for 2014 include ‘Opera on the Beach’, ‘Opera on the Harbour’ and ‘The King and I’.  So the company moves further and further away from the Mission Statement which was on their web site when Mr Terracini became the head honcho. 

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..