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23 June, 2003

Joan Sutherland Society of Sydney 25 year anniversary concert - with the Dame!

Sunday, 22 Jun 2003

Dear Colleagues,

We were treated to an afternoon of fine singing in St Paul's Church in Burwood with Joan Sutherland herself in attendance. The long awaited return of soprano Maria Pollicina was complemented by a number of previous scholarship winners and aspirants plus a daring and talented new pianist, Nathan Carruthers.

One high point was Catherine Carby in the Habanera which she sang while strolling amongst pews and parishioners. She also joined soprano Göknur Ray in 'Viens Mallika' from Lakmé. Both have warm and rich voices.

Bradley Cooper is a 25 year old tenor who has a light, crisp and accurate voice with the 'ping' needed for his Seragio aria 'O wie ängstlich'. He also succeeded in conquering the almost impossible Manon aria 'En fermant les yeux'.

Maria Pollicina sang 'Ritorna vincitor' last weekend at an "Opera Arts" recital, Sharolyn Kimmorley at keyboards. Again they combined to give us La Maya y el Ruisenor (Granados) and Kiss in the Dark (Herbert) to great acclaim. Ms Pollicina looked wonderful in a red dress and jewellery which caught the afternoon winter sun shining through the stained glass of St Pauls.

The concert opened with an extraordinary feat. Australia's 90 year old great lady of composition, Miriam Hyde played her own demonstrative piano piece "Ring of New Bells" following the chimes of the very bells which inspired it!

Other talents included baritone Craig Everingham, sopranos Jennifer Barnes and Annabella Redman and mezzos Katherine Tier and Domenica Matthews who each sang very well.

Congratulations to Doug Cremer and his committee for this successful, sell-out show. It was encouraging to see so many other wonderful artists and supporters in attendance. These included Heather Begg, Rosina Raisbeck, Clifford Grant, Malcolm Donnelly, Renée Goossens, Andrew McKinnon and Adrian Collette.

Afternoon tea was served in the parish hall and it was nice to mingle with the stars. I could not help over-hearing a withering conversation between a nice couple and La Stupenda. "We met you back in the 1960s and you were real lovely and signed our program". It was like meeting in the next life! Next they turned to me and asked if I would take their photo with Ms Sutherland. I was also behind the camera for Licia Albanese recently but never seem to get in the lime light myself!

comments by Andrew Byrne ..

06 April, 2003

Barber's Antony and Cleopatra

Carnegie Hall, 57th St, New York City

6th April 2003

Dear Colleagues,

We were treated to a concert performance of this rare work on a cold Sunday afternoon in New York.

Barber's Antony and Cleopatra is a difficult work which may yet make a come-back after serious revisions by the composer before he died, in collaboration with Menotti. It will benefit greatly from sub-titles which obviously were not there in 1965 when it opened the new Met in such sorry circumstances.

Carol Vaness played Cleopatra while Louis Otley replaced an indisposed Gregg Baker as Marc Antony. Neil Rosenshein took the role of Caesar while Arthur Woodly, a magnificent African American bass took the role of Enobarbus. Charmian was sung by Margaret Thompson. Conductor was Steven Sloane with American Composers Orchestra and New York Concert Singers.

Vaness was in fine voice but looked out of place in a mock-Egyptian hair-do and a golden split leg dress. The performance was partially staged which was also most off-putting. Tender embraces, kneeling and sudden movements across the podium did not add to the drama to my mind. As it was written for Leontyne Price there are haunting lows and sustained highs - possibly also explaining why it has been avoided by opera companies for so long. Rosenshein started out falteringly but reached vocal heights on at least two occasions, reminding us of his substantial powers. He was the only singer not to use the score - his part was not large as much of Caesar's music was apparently jettisoned in the Menotti revisions. Mr Otley sang creditably as a stand-in and made only one or two minor hesitations in his long and demanding title role.

The work has numerous touching and tingling moments but is not exactly my style. Much of it sounds as if it could have been written by Benjamin Britten. The opening chorus is like the Peter Grimes court room scene. One has to warm to a lovely duet which sounds more like Puccini than more modern music. Intriguingly, after the queen's death the chorus broke into fortissimo reminiscent of Mascagni's Iris to end this great tragedy.

According to the program notes, this opera has only had a couple of outings in its 35 year history, including on at the Chicago Lyric. It is certainly more worthy than some other pieces I have seen revived and in a day when the US is increasingly patriotic it will probably happen.

comments by Andrew Byrne ..

11 February, 2003

Rigoletto at the Sydney Opera House, Wed 11th February 2003

Sydney Opera House

Wed 11th February 2003

Dear Colleagues,

We were treated to a marvellous performance of Verdi's masterpiece in Moshinsky's classic non-stop production with singers of the highest calibre. The Pompeii red arched portrait gallery where much of the opera takes place is a decorative and theatrical triumph. To my mind, this performance demonstrates the high standard of opera in this country. And it was not in the Gala opening night series, but seemingly a 'special' for the passengers of the QEII which was moored nearby.

Victor Hugo's hunchback, Tribulet (aka Rigoletto), was played by Michael Lewis who 'became' the character in a way rarely seen on the opera stage. His vocal accuracy, volume, diminuendos, breath control and particularly his high tessitura were incomparable. The final 'maledizione' was quite breathtaking, if unwritten. He limped, lurched and loomed about the set with his two sticks, taunts flying to and from the courtiers who he so detests. His tender moments with Gilda were equally moving.

On no less than 6 occasions in this opera the plot requests character's identity. Was this shades of modern security? Rigoletto seeks Sparafucile's contact details; Gilda wants to know her mother's name; she then asks the Duke his name (and sings of it 'Caro nome'); Rigoletto seeks Marullo's identity in the abduction scene; Sparafucile wants to know the names of his victim and his client ('Crime' and 'Punishment') while finally a desparate Rigoletto asks who is the body in the bag on hearing the Duke's unmistakable refrain from the adjacent lodgings.

Joanna Cole's Gilda had most of the requisite 'frills'. The production has her as a naughty girl reading a dirty magazine and smoking behind her father's back, amongst other things. She is sufficiently nubile and amply vocally agile to carry this part to near perfection. While leaving the two terminal high notes in the quartet and storm scene to others, she did all that was necessary in the 'Si vendetta' and 'Addio, addio' duets as well as her own show piece, 'Caro nome'.

The only things lacking were the off-stage dog barking in Act I (when disturbed by the first of two burglaries) and the smell of the pasta al forno. Perhaps that will take new technology - but if they can fry eggs on stage in Wagner's Ring anything is possible in the theatre!

Tenor Mr Ding Yi was confident if a little stiff at times. But he loosened up dramatically as well as vocally and was almost too nice to be the dastardly Duke of Mantua. His 'La donna e mobile' came off without a hitch, as did his subsequent off-stage lines, crucial to the plot.

Other parts were also taken by gifted singers: Sparafucile by Arend Baumann; Giovanna and Maddalena by Jacqueline Dark; Monterone by Michael Saunders. Each sang with distinction, making the performance balanced and exciting. The chorus members were especially good in the demanding 'Mafioso' and party roles assigned to them.

Under Johannes Fritzsch's baton the orchestra also sounded at their best. They appear to know and love this delicious score.

A wonderful night at the opera.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..