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15 September, 2015

2016 Sydney opera season: Too little too late: the end of an era.

Dear Colleagues,
My first operas and operettas were at Rockdale dating from about 1960 … the attached was my first real opera subscription ticket … dating from ~1971 before the opening of the Sydney Opera House.  While a student at Sydney University I was a supernumerary ‘extra’ before I became the chorus dresser and then unofficial opera company doctor.  I seem to have had continuing tickets for over 40 years.  For many seasons I had two parallel subscriptions so I could see some operas twice - and shared these with a number of very notable Sydney personalities.  But this week, after careful consideration of the offerings for 2016, my renewal lapsed.  My expectations have been disappointed for quite some years but I lived in hope.  And indeed we have seen a few high quality operas in recent years … but they have been outnumbered by repeats, poor quality casts and endless musical comedy seasons.  I found that I was giving away more tickets than I was using. 
I recently attended a mid-season performance of the latest Marriage of Figaro and noted that it was well received as an original and well thought out production of this classic work.  Mr McVicar’s version of Cosi fan tutte next year may also be worth waiting for.  Luisa Miller and Simon Boccanegra are both rare and dark Verdi operas while Love of Three Oranges is a Prokofiev masterpiece.  But somehow I could not get excited about the other offerings for the new season.  I waited until after the renewal period before writing as I did not wish to influence anyone against supporting the opera company, or what remains of it. 
But three or four operas can hardly justify a full subscription series - the company once presented up to 16 operas per year from which subscribers could choose. 
While the new subscription brochure contains a couple of good prospects, for regular subscribers, repeats of La Boheme, Turandot, Pearlfishers, Carmen, Barber of Seville, My Fair Lady (no cast announced) and Magic Flute all yield a feeling of deja vu.  I just hope they can fill the houses with newcomers.  But for $300 per ticket it may be difficult.  The story about cruise passengers filling seats is mythology as nearly all liners are only in port from 6am to 6pm.  
We last heard The Marriage of Figaro in 2010 then again in 2015, not an unreasonable frequency for a popular classic.  However, some others are being dished out two years running! (eg. Turandot).  The 2016 Sydney season contains no Wagner.  There is no Trittico.  There is no international star important enough to put on the front cover.  There is now only a small group of top-class Australian artists (such as Daniel Sumegi, José Carbó, Emma Matthews, Lorina Gore, Nicole Car, Rosario LaSpina) most of whom still work overseas some of the time.
The final straw was news that Watkins’ fine Australian opera The Eighth Wonder is to be performed outside, on the steps of the opera house.  What are they thinking?  The opera is devoted to the story of an opera house yet they evacuate the place for the night!  I am not making this up! 
Like many other lapsed subscribers I will be buying individual seats to a couple of the operas in 2016 and hoping that there is some sort of meltdown in the management returns us to a rational and consistent approach to opera in this country.  If it can happen in Canberra, why not the national opera company?  In spite of this, I remain a patron and donate a modest modicum to the company hoping for change (and a few dress rehearsal tickets for my relations).
Written by Andrew Byrne ..

19 July, 2015

Don Carlos. Sydney Opera House. Tuesday 14th July 2015

Prince Don Carlos - Diego Torre
Rodrigo - José Carbó
Eboli - Milijana Nikolic
Elisabeth de Valois - Latonia Moore
King Philip II - Ferruccio Furlanetto
The Grand Inquisitor - Daniel Sumegi
Celestial voice - Julie Lea Goodwin
Conductor - Andrea Licata
What can one say about such a splendid and multifaceted performance of Verdi’s longest and blackest opera?  The voices were almost too much for this small theatre!  A lady sitting in the front stalls complained at interval that her ears hurt after the auto-da-fe scene!  With a title tenor so loud (and at times slightly ungainly) it was hard for the rest to keep a tasteful balance … but somehow it never left the rails to become the train wreck that could have resulted.  Diego Torre is an archetypical tenor, shorter and stouter than the average but with a huge and resonant voice.  This was one of the most high-tensile and exciting performances I have attended. 
The world-class bass Signore Furlanetto was true to his reputation, singing his long and tragic Act 4 monologue to perfection (below a Las Meninas inspired master).  We were also privileged to hear two excellent Australian basses in Daniel Sumegi as Grand Inquisitor and David Parkin as the crippled monk/Charles V. 
American soprano Ms Latonia Moore sang superlatively as Elisabetta whose big aria is tucked into the last act.  Tu, che le vanita conoscesti del mondo .. which was sung in full voice with clarity to boot.  Moore’s range is extraordinary with power in both high and low notes. 
Jose Carbo as Roderigo Marquis di Posa maintained his warm, velvet baritone and dramatic persona throughout this long part.  His Act I duet with the tenor was magnificent, as was his death scene.  I think he is the only fully likeable character in the opera.  Ms Nikolic started out below par and sounded muted at times.  With her high-brow fellow singers she rose to greatness on occasions yet her O don fatale was just passable (it is my favourite part of the whole opera). 
The conductor seemed to take some sections slightly faster than the singers might have liked … but clearly knew what he was doing in this dark and relentless piece. 
This old Moshinsky production has a couple of odd features but overall is very effective.  It is from an era when clunky scene changes were acceptable.  This four act version of a five act opera has been further truncated into two halves with a single intermission.  Verdi ordained these breaks for good reason … singers and musicians and audience all need a rest and it takes time to rebuild the stage.  In Act IV the king sings of the candles burning down yet there were no candles on stage.  Eboli traditionally glimpses Carlo's death warrant on the king’s table, yet there is only a pile of books so Eboli has to respond as if she had just learned of the plans and sings the last exciting notes of the act.  No matter … most of the details were included - and more - in this production. 
The audience was enthusiastic yet there were hundreds of empty seats for this opening night.  ‘Natural selection’ saw many of Sydney’s opera aficionados attending, drawn by the rarely performed opera and/or the big names performing it.  Many previous subscribers deserted the company so opening nights are no longer the sold-out sessions they were.  The management has been derogatory about subscribers, pushing to serve some other audience which seems not to exist.  Supposed sales to cruise passengers is mythology since most liners arrive at dawn and leave at dusk, leaving no time for evening opera.  It is a small miracle that we still have an ‘opera’ company at all in Sydney. 
Notes by Andrew Byrne ..

13 July, 2015

Subject line: “Whelming” La Traviata.

La Traviata - Sydney Opera House Friday 3rd July 2015
Violetta - Lorina Gore
Alfredo - Rame Lahaj
Germont senior - José Carbó
Cond: Renato Palumbo

On going through my opera notes I found 14 reviews of this opera in as many years.  Some were cast changes and some were in New York.  One was on Sydney Harbour.  I was not looking forward to yet another Traviata, especially in a production I had seen many times.  The performance was underwhelming and I had decided not to write notes until I spoke to an old hand who pointed out that some of the singers just seemed to be mouthing the words and notes without knowing the drama and its sentiments.  This applies especially to the tenor but also to the other roles to some extent.  Indeed they sang all of the notes, even some unwritten ones.  While comparisons are odorous, having heard Kiri Te Kanawa, Joan Sutherland, Regina Schorg, Joan Carden and other greats as Violetta in this same hall it is hard to say that Ms Gore is yet ready despite her marvelous talents. 

Apart from the mid-level loges, the hall was almost full but I noted a number of people who appeared to be on complimentary tickets and some couples who also received free entries to the patrons lounge.  Each of these potentially deprived the company of about $700 which in a normal company could be liable to Fringe Benefits Tax. 

If it was your first, this opera performance might have been satisfactory yet for seasoned opera goers it was pedestrian.  And the young singers are being pushed to do three performances of this enormous work each week, something I find criminal.  I note that Turandot and Don Carlos with serious international casts are only being put on twice each week in their current seasons in Sydney.  Grand opera is like marathon running and only the foolhardy, needy or greedy would deny performers adequate recovery time.  Furthermore, the highly regarded baritone José Carbó is apparently being cast to sing Germont and Roderigo on successive nights!!  This is a recipe for vocal disaster and implicates the company management in doing the opposite of what they are charged to do by their own charter, The Australia Council, good sense and tradition. 
  I say no more but look forward to Don Carlos on Tuesday. 

 Notes by Andrew Byrne ..


28 June, 2015

Big voices make for terrific Turandot at Sydney Opera House.

Turandot - Wed 24th June 2015 - Sydney Opera House.
Fasten your seat belts as this is one exciting escapade to open the Sydney opera season.  This Turandot is a must-see and must-hear for anyone interested in great singing.  Seats are $44 (restricted view) to $300.  Finally the management seems to have worked out that opera is an international sport and the principal roles need to be taken by serious international competitors. 
American dramatic soprano Lise Lindstrom sings the cold princess with a palpable presence.  She has an enormous, accurate and steely voice while also looking beautiful and acting well on stage. 
Mr Yonghoon Lee has a very large and well schooled voice with a pleasant and more-ish quality.  From Calafs first utterances he commands attention, even above the entire orchestra and chorus.  Mr Lees recent Don Carlos at the Met sounded very fine but to hear the same voice in a smaller theatre was extraordinary.  He is tall and cuts a decent figure on stage.  He received one of the few spontaneous standing ovations I have seen from a Sydney audience.  It was reminiscent of the Sutherland days of the 1980s.  And this was repeated for the soprano, and deservedly so. 
Hyeseoung Kwon sang Liu with the delicate legato needed for this important role. 
Civil servants Ping, Pang and Pong were sung brilliantly by Luke Gabbedy, Graeme Macfarlane and John Longmuir.  Jud Arthur was excellent as Timur, Calafs father.  The Mandarin or town crier should have a booming declamatory voice to open the opera and tell its story line.  Gennadi Dubinsky was disappointing and I wonder that the company uses him year after year for inappropriate roles.  The Emperor is a comprimario part and while tradition has him old and frail Mr Rasheed was either not up to singing the low notes or he was over-acting.  Yet these small deficiencies stand in stark contrast to the magnificent flow of glorious vocalising the likes of which we have not heard for some time in Sydney. 
The orchestra and chorus deserve full credit for recreating Graham Murphys vibrant production of Puccinis last masterpiece (completed by his student Alfano).  The original choreography uses many modern tricks with ribbons, blackened mannequins, giant flags, fans and more.  Christian Badea conducted with accurate deference to the composer. 
A high point for me is the riddle scene in act II when, after moments of uncertainty, Calaf gives correct one-word responses to three riddles posed by the princess.  Like clouds parting after a storm the whole of Peking, except the princess, seems to lurch into major-key happiness.  Then the prince allows one additional riddle which, if answered correctly, would release the reluctant princess from her vow.  This in turn leads to the start of Act III and Nessun dorma when none shall sleep until the name of the mystery suitor is discovered.  After witnessing Lius descent into love-torn suicide, Turandot publicly claims to know the name, announcing it to be … “Amore” (love), averting a potential tragedy and allowing a happy ending with a full choral reprise of the Nessun dorma or World Cup theme. 
Just get a ticket! 
Written by Andrew Byrne ..
Clinic web page:

01 May, 2015

Masked Ball at the Met - April 2015

Ballo in Maschera.  Met Opera NYC.  Thursday 23rd April 2015
This was one of the best opera performances I have seen in a long time.  A dream cast was combined with James Levine and his marvellous orchestra and chorus in a modern, clever and eclectic production by David Alden utilising 20th century décor and costumes with a mock-Tiepolo sky-scape of winged angel and four-horse chariot on high.  While a long way from the iconic traditional Met production, the 20th century update seems to work (at least second time around for me). 
Piotr Beczala (King), Dmitry Hvorostovsky (Renato), Sondra Radvanovsky (Amelia), Dolora Zajick (Ulrica) and Heidi Stober (Oscar).  Every one of these artists was superlative and deserving of a paragraph on detail.  Mr Hvorostovsky’s talents are well known and he was true to his reputation, often singing two lines on the one breath, hitting baritonal high notes with more ease than some tenors and acting the metamorphosis from the king’s friend to foe with stunning drama.  Ms Radvanovsky has the most ‘projected’ voice I have heard in a long while, yet she also uses subtlety and diminuendos with style and flare.  Mr Beczala is one of the best tenors in the world today.  His youthful good looks and dramatic talents combine with his vocal confidence at the high registers used frequently in Ballo.  He sings without forcing and often smiles during his delivery. 
Popular American mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick was a splendid fortune teller, taking command of the entire space during her scene.  She even produces a skull from her leather handbag, a theme which is repeated with the skull masks of the conspirators in the last act.  We also see palm reading, playing cards and blank pages torn off writing pads by innominate public servants or scribes at innominate desks with innominate expressions and stylised movements.  The king’s court has formal waiters, soldiers, policy analysts, lobbyists, etc amongst the chorus as well as some dancers providing lots of movement on stage.  And conspirators, of course. 
The essence of the opera is that the king mocks prophecies of doom, saying the love of his people and God will protect him.  If this happened we would not have much of an opera!  Ulrica’s fortune-telling cards say that fate alone will decided events and humans are powerless to stop it with our frailties. 
Heidi Stober was a perfect Oscar in a white suit, sometimes winged, suitably spunky in a unisex way.  Like her colleagues, the voice soared into the auditorium on the numerous occasions required by the score.  His relationship with the king gives a gay side to the character and the death scene is played as such. 
Commentaries from some quarters recently complain that the Met is playing Verdi with poor quality casts and this in turn has led to poor attendances.  I find this hard to justify and would report exactly the opposite.  Poor attendances have occurred  in opera seasons around the world in recent years and the causes are complex.  This Friday opening seemed to have few empty seats.  During April several performances of Aida (conducted by Domingo) were virtually full as was Ernani (with Domingo playing the baritone role), leaving Don Carlos playing to less than full houses, probably due to the nature of the opera rather than the cast (which included Frittoli, Hvorostovsky, Furlanetto, Morris with Yonghoon Lee an excellent tenor in the title role).  Sadly sickness and substitution supervened on several occasions, notably when Michael Fabiano as Edgardo was brought into Lucia from Philadelphia at a few hours notice.  His single performance without rehearsal received a major accolade from the New York Times. 
The standard of operas at the Met remains very high from my experience … but I cannot say the same for operettas.  The Merry Widow was a disappointment and just did not seem to come to life as it can with the right chemistry.  The text was a very poor alternative translation and at times the performers just did not seem to want to be there.  The voices seemed under powered and amplification was inadequate to understand the dialogue without reading the subtitles which was not well synchronised anyway.  The Met should probably stick to opera! 
Notes by Andrew Byrne ..
Postcard from New York:

26 April, 2015

Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni) and I Pagliacci (Leoncavallo) at the Met April 2015

This dual production of the verismo twins is a strange marriage of directorial talent with megalomania with much excellent singing shining through.  The McVicar productions will be controversial which probably suits The Met despite any insult to the art.  And the second opera IS an insult - from start to finish.  Pagliacci is a masterpiece, the composer himself a poet, carefully writing each line of the libretto in the marvellous drama which moves relentlessly towards theatrical tragedy by way of a play within a play.  The play itself has some Punchinello slapstick yet the director expands this to the entire opera starting unforgivably half way through the Prologue, Si puo? a baritone showpiece for good reason. 
In the busy and cluttered production of Pagliacci there are dozens of examples of hilarious and well rehearsed side-shows by acrobats, actors and vaudevillians.  Much of this distracts and thus detracts from what is happening centre-stage in the vocal drama we paid to see and hear.  The above example yields laughter from the audience during the Prologue over some shenanigans with a microphone cord stuck in Tonios groin, pulling three goofy assistants out of the wings, all to great hilarity.  The words of the Prologue compare life in the theatre with the real world and that the actors real and vulnerable people.  The three stoogers are brilliant vaudeville actors, yet they are greatly overused to my mind. 
Another example is clever but distracting, being Taddeo (Tonios) sudden appearance providing an alibi to Pagliaccio (Canio) for Colombina (Nedda) having set two places at table.  Traditionally this is sung as a terrified stammer credetela (believe her!) but McVicar has Tonio sing from the deep freeze cabinet as if he were shivering - ice and vapour for added realism as the door is opened to reveal the hidden witness.  The humour spoils the lines to my mind and does nothing but draw attention to Mr McVicar and away from Leoncavallos drama. 
Half way through Canios famous aria Vesti la giubba the curtain mysteriously drops, breaking the continuity to some extent.  Mr Alvarez then continues the aria while stage noise can be heard behind, yet again distracting from what should be a magnificent set piece for the tenor.  Another unforgivable concession to stage pragmatism by Mr McVicar who is starting to get on my nerves. 
The noise of a trucks starter-motor, especially a faulty one, is an ugly and unnecessary start to an opera, despite it being novel, funny and unexpected.  It is witless. 
Taddeo arrives in the play with a toy chicken (as required in the libretto - all of McVicars devices, however stupid, seem to come from the book) but he then uses the puppet as a TV character ventriloquist.  Nedda pokes the same springy toy into a saucepan and puts it on the stove as the attendant three stoogers clown with a bowl of whipped cream which ends up on several faces.  Even the cooked chicken comes to life again on the dinner table - but does this hilarious gag add? 
Modern Met productions really require two reviews, one for the opera in the theatre and another for Live-HD cinema broadcast as they are significantly different experiences.  I can only comment on the theater experience after attending the twin operas (twice) live. 
To state the obvious, only the theatre audience will hear the actual live voices of the singers and direct orchestral sound unaltered by technology.  Thus voice size is less relevant to the cinema audience.  Likewise the appearance of revolving scenery and also mishaps I was told that with a very short delay the live transmission can be switched to the previously recorded rehearsal as a back-up in case of stage or technical problems.  I was not told how often this is done in practice but it would seem like a useful strategy to avoid disappointing a huge paying audience around the world (only countries near Australias longitude do NOT receive the broadcasts direct due to the inclement hour of night). 
Like the Lepage Ring, these operas, with all their faults, fulfil the Met's need for something completely different yet maintaining the realism demanded by a conservative New York audience.  On the same open, dark-walled set, the operas make a stark contrast from each other. 
Unlike the bright and busy Paglicci production, the first opera Cavalleria Rusticana is mostly dark and tranquil with the intense emotion depending on the musical/vocal components.  It commences with a huge ring of black chairs and a tasteful slow circuit of the stage revolve finds us virtually meeting each villager a very Southern Italian thing to do.  Then very soon, like a child with a new toy, the director over-uses the stage revolve to the extent that I was positively vertiginous by the end of Pagliacci from the never-ending stage circles, both ways, fast and slow, most to no particularly dramatic point.  Most ridiculous was to see the entire chorus of over fifty singers in the first opera all gradually jerk themselves one way while the stage revolve goes the other, leaving them all in the same positions.  As a final insult just as the dramatic La comedia e finita was announced the revolve went into full speed.  Presumably this was to present the empty side of the stage for the curtain calls yet this could have been achieved without interrupting the operas dramatic ending.  I was intrigued that amid all the realistic attributes, candles, veils, wine jugs, fruit and vegetables, etc in Cavalleria Rusticana there was an odd mechanical refectory table with visible hydraulic expandable supports yet also with chunky wooden false legs.  One allows artistic licence but the one day of the year when village markets in Italy probably did not function was Easter Day. 
To give credit where it is due, the performance of Cavalleria Rusticana was both menacing and meaningful.  The singing was excellent from the off-stage Siciliana to the shriek at the end announcing the death of Turridu.  Mr Alvarez played both tenor roles brilliantly while George Gagnidze played both Tonio and Alfio with equal effect.  Patricia Racette played Nedda both excellent in voice and as a sexy singing actress.  Santuzza was played solidly by Eva-Maria Westbroek.  Lola with the unlikely name of Ginger Costa-Jackson was born in Sicily and may have been the only cast member with genetic and cultural connections to the stories.  The minor roles were also all well acquitted.  Silvio (Lucas Meachem) and Nedda had a long section of their duet restored and charmingly sung by both. 
By the modern vogue, things happen on stage during each of the orchestral interludes except for the Pagliacci intermezzo which then paradoxically is followed by a long pause, presumably for set changes.  The Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana is one of the greatest operatic orchestral pieces ever written.  How bizarre then that a director would feel the need to deflect attention from it.  Would he put some stage miscellany on stage during a Beethoven symphony or Bach cantata?  Maybe he would!   

19 April, 2015

Spectacular Aida again at the Met.

Aida - Verdi - Metropolitan Opera House, New York City. Friday 17th April 2015
I attended the second last outing of Aida for this season with Maestro Domingo on the podium and a strong cast.  When still one of the three tenors Domingo had been the original Radames in this classic production’s premiere in 1988 - along with Leona Mitchell, Sherrill Milnes, Fiorenza Cossotto and James Levine in the pit.  This is one of the few productions to survive the ‘Gelb purge’, the reason being that it would be hard to beat! 
While I adore the massive Egyptian colossi, sphinxes, march of hundreds, horses and triumphalism, for the purist it is a clever fraud stylistically.  It was fortuitous that I visited the Egyptian wing at the Metropolitan Museum earlier in the day, noting that the set designer Gianni Quaranta must have done the same thing, quite correctly, but got one major detail totally wrong.  Those faded frescoes, chipped statues and archaeological remnants would all have been new and vibrant at the time of the opera.  I once saw Anna Bolena at Covent Garden just after visiting the Tower of London and noted some similar incongruities. 
But I am being pedantic and the singing is what really matters … and it was 9 out of 10 for the most part - the Met chorus scoring ten.  Mark Delevan was most impressive playing Amonasro, as was Ramfis, played by Stefan Kocan a solid Met regular. 
Italian Marco Berti was fine as Radames managing the almost impossible Celeste Aida more than passably with much accurate and exciting singing beyond. 
Lithuanian Violeta Urmana was splendid as Amneris although her usually strong mid-voice seemed underpowered at times.  Her highs and lows were exemplary as was her drama especially at the end of Act IV, Scene 1 when she is torn between anger, love and grief. 
Oksana Dyka from the Ukraine (meaning ‘borderlands’) sang an excellent Aida.  Her dramatic input was stereotyped and her arms out-arms in became repetitive and irritating at times.  Her voice rose to numerous substantial heights yet she did not break any records (or chandeliers).  Maria Callas has detracted from the end of Act II for all who have heard recordings of her phenomenal feat in Mexico City singing a long, powerful and exciting E flat above chorus and orchestra.  The only more exciting thing I have heard is the thunderous applause from the audience following that high note.  A less stable nation might have been driven to a coup d’etat. 
The Met production by Sonja Frisell also has many high points but it is hard to go past the start of her Triumphal March which is still a breathtaking stage phenomenon no matter how many times one has seen it.  Aida is a brilliantly constructed drama conceived in outline by doyenne Egyptologist Auguste Mariette (who is not credited on the Met program title page).  The characters and interactions are all believable to me.  Verdi put all his mature genius into this work, having been brought out of retirement by the King of Egypt, his own wife and numerous others around him.  Possibly more than any other composer he developed his art - over six decades. 
While the drama, melodies, vocal ornaments and choruses are exemplary in Aida, for me the unique factor lies in the brief orchestral sections starting and finishing each act.  As with Falstaff, Verdi’s final opera, we have instrumental emotion, characterisation and even personality shining through an art which began with Gregorian chants a thousand years earlier (and these were unaccompanied!).   Listen for the crickets at the start of the Nile Scene! 
The Met orchestra was marvellous including six trumpeters on stage for the big scene.  The players know what they are doing with this popular ‘pot boiler’ being the ‘A’ of the ‘ABC’ of operas.  And some of the senior members may have played under Toscanini!  Much of the excited applause was clearly for the conductor Mr Domingo who Mr Gelb quoted recently to the audience as ‘immortal at the Met’.  And his presence must have contributed to the near full houses of recent performances. 
Notes by Andrew Byrne ..
Andrew’s Travels:
More soon (if I can) on Ernani both with and without Mr Domingo; new Cav&Pag production by David McVicar, A Masked Ball, Don Carlos and The Merry Widow.  A marvellous month of opera despite frequent illness amongst the singers.  Even some pre-Bach choral masses from Spain! 

06 April, 2015

Pontoon Aida on Sydney Harbour.

Aida - Verdi - Mrs Macquaries Chair, Sydney Harbour Fri 27th March 2015.

I am still in two minds about the Handa Harbour Opera in Sydney each autumn. On the one hand I love opera and applaud any attempt to bring it to a wider audience - and it is indeed a spectacle of opera and more. On the other hand, there are major draw-backs which make me positively cringe. The singers have to be amplified and thus we lose their one unique feature being the natural voice direct to the audiences ears as in the opera house. Furthermore, a month of outdoor opera monopolises a large part of the Sydney foreshores for a strange and irrational art form enjoyed by only a privileged minority of our community. The noisy display of fireworks during and after the show is another aspect which some may criticise. And then we have the weather (which is probably why they invented the opera house in the first place).

The main singers were strong apart from a miscast tenor, Walter Fraccaro. The role is tough and the most difficult aria occurs in the first 10 minutes of the opera. Like Otello, Verdis next and second last opera, the tenor role is suitable for only a very small proportion of tenors and Mr Fraccaro is no longer amongst them (if he ever was). He did warm up to some degree and he sang all of the notes.

The weather and ambiance were perfect for a gala opening, Sydneys dusk providing a backdrop for a drink and sustenance at tables on parapets constructed high above the water, all in view of the opera set. The pontoon sported a colossus of Nefertitis head, surrounded by dozens of red 44 gallon drums. Intriguing and talking points for the early arrivals. The original bust is in the Neues Museum in Berlin and is one of the most beautiful representations of the human form, crafted in the 18th dynasty ~1300BCE under the rule of Akhenaten, Nefertiti’s husband.

The performance of Verdis Egyptian masterpiece was most exciting on the whole with other principals, chorus and orchestra under Maestro Castles-Onion. For the start of the Triumphal Scene the long-necked statue slowly rotated to reveal the Pharaoh and his entourage miraculously in place and on time for the scene. Two magnificent camels strode back and forth across the faux proscenium with prisoners and carts full of booty and plunder for Pharaohs approval. Two rows of angled black plastic coffins reminded us of body bags of recent campaigns and the carnage of war as the victors celebrated and the vanquished mourned. And we even got the fabled Mexican E flat at the scenes end - although it could not have been sung by Ms Latonia Moore who, despite a vast talent in the dramatic soprano range would have to be super-human to have a sustained E flat in the voice***. Of course, being amplified, another singer could easily sub for the note as happened once in Macbeth with the Australian Opera decades ago (sung from the wings as the soprano turned away from the audience). For that matter any capable member of the ladies chorus could venture the high note (which is unwritten and dramatically inappropriate coming from the slave girl).

The Nile scene was magnificent and well exemplifies Verdis genius melding drama and vocal lines as the lines are sung: La gole di Napata. This revealed, like Wikileaks today, the unguarded remarks of the Commander in Chief who is thereby disonorato (dishonoured), leading to his being condemned to death in the judgment scene before the operas end in the tomb scene, Amneris pleading for peace (Pace, pace way above in Nefertitis damaged eye socket) as the music comes to an end.

Other details of the production would take pages of descriptions clever manoeuvres and devices, mostly straight from the book. Costumes were from cybermen outfits to Victorian dresses, white military uniforms and a loud, multicoloured balloon dress for Aida herself, looking like New Orleans fiesta.

So my advice for anyone in Sydney is to try to get a seat. The rear side seats are great value at just under $100 each. And try to borrow a program as there are no cast lists and the glossy programs are quite expensive. The food and drink are also at inflated prices, but thats what one would expect for such a venue. The slow service is also typical of the genre so get there early if you wish to partake and support the enterprise beyond the seat price.

Notes by Andrew Byrne ..
*** Note Aug 2017: I have now purchased the video of this wonderful performance and have to concede that for all appearances Ms Moore does indeed sing the E flat ending the Triumphal March.  Humble apologies! 
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