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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 ..