For the fifth year in a row the opera company has put on an open-air extravaganza at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, a narrow native peninsula which juts out into Sydney Harbour just east of the opera house and in full view of the entire city, sunset and subsequent stars (and full moon rise on cue at 7.30pm). Even mini-golf could become interesting in such a setting (each to their own!). Dining before the opera on the artificial parapet with the setting sun and harbour backdrop was all quite magical. The food was excellent but would not be found in ‘Cheap-eats’.
The pontoon ‘opera’ is not real opera because it is amplified. However, one has to appreciate the spectacle, ambiance and ‘fun of the fair’. And there was plenty of fun in this opening night event in addition to the opera. I confess mixed feelings about the taking public foreshore property for this very elite purpose … and about the Hollywoodisation of opera. The latter especially as we were in full view of the Opera House where fine opera still happens from time to time, regardless of the weather.
On the Olympic sized pontoon stage was an enormous sculpted dragon’s head on the left with stylised body and tail across to the right behind a tall silver tower looking something like a monster Darlek from Doctor Who. The latter was suitably fenestrated for appearances and descent of the Ice Princess and ascent of the lovers in the finale.
The opera opens with a suspended Mandarin ‘town crier’ reminding the crowds of the ancient law regarding would-be suitors of Turandot. Mr Dubinski sang like he always sings, somewhat less than perfect. At times he did not even seem to sing the notes Puccini carefully chose for him. David Lewis sang well as Emperor, appearing on a broad suspended chaise with the Writ of the Riddles as his painful duty for the beautiful princess’s betrothal.
All of the other singers were also top-class. As slave girl, Liu, the secondary soprano role can up-stage the title role and we were not disappointed with either. The very expensive glossy souvenir program does not inform us who was actually singing since there were doubles for the major roles. Because of early Easter the opera was performed on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, etc, keeping us guessing about the principals’ identities. As in the opera house, there should have been a cast list at the very least.
Ping, Pang and Pong were perfectly cast as the chattering public servants. John Longmuir, Benjamin Rasheed and Luke Gabbedy sang and acted their routines with style and flair. And THEY are to sing EVERY night until 24th April according to the program (Mondays excluded).
The chorus sang and acted brilliantly and I presume body microphones and careful mixing yielded the satisfying auditory production, balanced with the Neptunian orchestra under baton of underworld Maestro Brian Castles-Onion. At least they got to parade centre-stage in the curtain calls.
Careful trawling on the company’s web-site finds that opening-night Turandot was performed by Serbian super-soprano Dragana Radakovic, Liu by Hyeseoung Kwon and Calaf by Riccardo Massi. They were all incomparable in my view. This cast is to sing again on Sunday 27th and Tuesday 29th April. Veteran Kiwi bass Conal Coad plays blind Timur, king without a kingdom.
‘Nessun dorma’ is the great tenor showpiece everyone waits for and it did not disappoint, Mr Massi singing a fine aria and holding a long penultimate note to enormous ovation. And then fireworks were released just in case anyone was still asleep (‘Nessun dorma’ means ‘no-one sleeps’). After the clapping we had a reprise of several bars so the ‘through-written’ third act could continue. Puccini never intended the final word, ‘vincero’ to be sung as it is now (the first person plural is one exception to the usual Italian rule of emphasis to be placed on the second last vowel).
For these operas the company uses one intermission, thus pushing acts together with a few ‘cuts’. Three short acts as Puccini wrote would allow more mingling, more food and another drink in two intermissions. It would also allow the singers and orchestra two proper breaks in a very full evening.
Tickets range from $70 to $330 with options for supper, drinks and glossy program. There are no bad seats although I would advise avoiding the front 4 rows. Take binoculars if you want to see the expressions on the singers’ faces.
Written by Andrew Byrne ..
Opera blog: http://andrewsopera.blogspot.com/
G.Rossini, Semiramide Overture (for 8 pianos) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pdGIrOwy6s