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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 ..