Andrew's Opera was previously published at

25 October, 2006

Oops, Gilda's D flat ... and, amateurs in major roles in Sydney Rigoletto!

Sydney Opera House

Friday 1st September 2006

Dear Colleagues,

The high note sung by Natalie Jones at the end of the quartet was an unwritten (at least in my Boosey & Hawkes score) D flat, not an E flat as I quoted in my earlier posting. So much for relying on memory. My apologies.

More important was that this was NOT the last Rigoletto. The company had replaced a previously scheduled Pirates of Penzance with David Hobson on Tuesday with a special performance of Rigoletto in which three principals would be replaced by 'talent-time' amateurs in the last act.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has run a series of several Sunday night television programs documenting a national talent search beginning in 2005. Some candidates were labourers, tradesmen, teachers, mothers, etc. Few had had much if any formal vocal training. Based on a similar exercise in the UK, the winner was meant to get to sing one role with the company. However, for reasons of 'fairness', they decided to allow the best three to each take part in part or all of the opera.

I was not at the performance, but several others I have spoken to said that it had much to commend it. Those in the know said that the winner, a young bass David Parkin who sang Sparafucile, should have a career in opera if he chooses to take that giant leap. I heard him on the television last weekend and he sounded and acted in a way to be noticed. He is an IT man with a legal firm. Good luck! Or as they say in the trade, 'break a leg!'

Regards, Andrew Byrne ..

21 October, 2006

Joan Sutherland's 80th birthday and Australian opera company turns 50

Opera Australia 50th birthday concert. Sydney Opera House

Wed 11th October 2006

Dear Colleagues,

This concert was heavily billed and at $400 for the best seats, an impressive cast and the presence of Joan Sutherland, to there were high expectations. But amongst some high quality opera singing there were also disappointments. In some respects, the opera company seems to lack a clear direction, both artistically and regarding human resources. On the night, several simple flaws could have been easily remedied yet other more fundamental defects may require major remedial work. Why, for instance, did Peter Coleman-Wright, an excellent baritone, sing an aria often sung by basses? He was not able to shine on the lowest notes, losing the essence of the raw emotion Beethoven’s score demands in Fidelio.

Equally, why was superlative Wagnerian tenor Glenn Winslade asked to sing a coloratura aria from Idomeneo? After a sub-optimal performance in Clemenza di Tito recently, he seemed out of his fach again. One wonders if there is anyone in the company who actually reads the many professional reviews that are written, letters sent and comments made? One did not need any training to hear the vocal difficulties.

We were told that the company was founded on Mozart who has been a mainstay since the original 4 Köchel operas in 1956. The operas of Donizetti and Bellini catapulted our guest of honour to stardom and yet neither of these ‘greats’ was sung all evening.

The two most popular requests from Australian audiences, we are told, are Pearlfishers and David Hobson. Again, neither was to be heard, despite the latter singing G&S with the company currently. Hobson had excellent notices as Candide in Perth recently as well as high-rating national TV appearances. No sensible opera management could afford to ignore such a popular artist in his prime, just as with latter-day icons Donald Smith, Joan Carden and Joan Sutherland who filled theatres for decades.

While Britten is not my personal favourite, the two excerpts “Old Joe has gone fishin’” and the finale from Midsummer Night’s Dream were certainly well received by those who like that sort of thing. The double Shakespearian end to the night was apposite, Puck and Falstaff.

We heard Elizabeth Connell in the Liebestod, Lisa Gasteen in ‘Dich, teure Halle’ from Tannäuser, John Wegner in ‘Scintille diamant’ from Hoffmann, Emma Matthews in Olympia’s song, Yvonne Kenny in Vilja, Michael Lewis in a declamation from Australian opera Madeline Lee. All were creditable, while Matthews and Wegner gave sensational performances. ‘Va pensiero’ was well rendered by an experienced, talented and very hard-working chorus.

Two other excepts from the popular repertory kept the crowds happy, both featuring the company’s latest ‘hot property’, tenor Rosario La Spina. From Act IV of Rigoletto we heard a gushing ‘La Donna è mobile’ followed by the quartet. Act II finale of La Bohème was also splendid, even if the tenor only has a few big notes at the end after Musetta has taken stage. I find it odd that Pamela Helen Stephen (Mrs Hickox) would be partaking in the Opera Australia birthday function when, until this week, as an excellent Sesto in Julius Caesar, she had never sung with the company. ‘Vissi d’arte’ with Cheryl Barker was dropped without any mention of why.

We had been promised a “surprise” which came after the Falstaff ‘Tutto nel mondo’ in the form of a blackout, followed by a hugely amplified (and rather distorted) second verse of “Ah non giunge” from La Sonnambula sung by a very young Joan Sutherland. This was followed by strains of the entire night’s company singing ‘happy birthday’ to ticker-tape. Joan Sutherland turns 80 next month. She looked radiant and appreciative when the doting audience gave her a standing ovation.

As an encore we were presented with the finale from Midsummer Night’s Dream with counter-tenor Graham Pushee and children’s chorus, concluded by compare Anthony Warlow.

While it is novel to hear the full Opera and Ballet Orchestra on the stage rather then in the pit, it is a shame that Mr Hickox did not tone down the volume for the sake of the singers, some of whom had to struggle to be heard, and in some cases producing a forced sound as in the Rosenkavalier trio. The War and Peace overture seemed lacklustre and was an odd choice to get people into the mood for a Joan Sutherland birthday gala. Yet the Prokofiev opened the opera house in 1972 (and has never been heard of again). Meistersinger overture in the second half also seemed to lack something - perhaps they should have included the opening chorus ‘come scritto’.

If the concert was to be user-friendly and get new people (and keep old hands) interested in the genre, it is essential that patrons can follow the words and drama, which, after all, is the essence of opera. On the night, there were no subtitles, no libretto, no auditorium lighting and in some cases poor enunciation which all conspired to keep us in our respective ignorance. The company should have a birthday resolution that they never perform anything, anywhere unless every member of the audience has access to English titles. This is not rocket science. It was a mercy that the heavy, glossy program was included in the hefty prices of the tickets. A great shame, however, that it did not contain a libretto.

We are lucky to have an opera company in Australia. We are lucky that it puts on high quality opera much of the time. A sign of its maturity, size and scope is that on the very night of this concert, the company put on another concert in the adjoining hall as a tribute to volunteer workers in charitable organisations in the region. Well done to all participants - at least two performed in both concerts on the one night!

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

11 October, 2006

Top-rate Julius Caesar at Sydney Opera House

Julius Caesar. GF Handel. Sydney Opera House

Thursday 5th October

CaesarTobias Cole (counter tenor)
CleopatraEmma Matthews (soprano)
CorneliaCatherine Carby (mezzo soprano)
SestoPamela Helen Stephen (mezzo soprano)
AchillaStephen Bennett (bass)
PtolomeoChristopher Field (counter tenor)
NirenoDaniel Goodwin (counter tenor)
ConductorRichard Hickox
Solo ViolinHuy-Nguyen Bui

Dear Colleagues,

One would have to travel a long way to find a performance of equal quality, originality and balance. We were privileged to hear Emma Matthews in one of her finest and most challenging roles as Caesar's Cleopatra. The production by Francisco Negrin and Anthony Baker has an eclectic, diverse and yet meaningful series of settings for the alternating love and hate themes of the opera. We start with a decapitated head (Pompey) and 3½ hours later we have witnessed grand seduction, attempted rape, foul murder, conspiracy, treason, slander, assault, breach of promise, exposure, near-nudity and near-drowning, making a veritable text book of the criminal law.

Extraordinary arias of ever increasing difficulty came from the last female pharaoh, starting with 'Non disperar'. "V'adoro, pupille .. " must be one of the best known Handelian moments after the so-called 'Largo') then to a phenomenal "Da tempesta .. " near the finale. Matthews' voice is crystal clear, accurate and pleasing to the ear. Her acting is confident and persuasive.

The production consisted of numerous settings, each framed with four walls of black and white traditional hieroglyph writing. There were shades of a King Tut exhibition and Mme Tussaud's wax museum with stuffed and gilded African animals, snakes, jewellery, gems and clothing housed in glass cases. One scene was bravely set in a steam room (akin to the NYCO Viaggio) while others took place in a tiled bathing pool room, palace halls and ?quay-side. The lighting was ingenious, particularly in the dining scene.

Tobias Cole has a pleasing, youthful counter-tenor voice. In the lower register he sounds distinctly tenor-like which I do not find off-putting at all. But I have always had a problem with the ruler of the known world singing alto. That is my problem, however, and Cole sings in key, sensitively and with a confidence which hardly seemed in doubt on opening night. Apart from his other set pieces, Cole also has a magnificent show-stopping tour-de-force in his 'duet' with the gypsy violin. Singing in counter tenor register, Mr Cole was able to give his violin partner a run for his money, although the strings always 'win', or at least retreat to allow an honorable dead heat.

Pamela Stephen was the surprise of the night. She played this pants role with charm, dignity and vocal fullness which would be hard to beat. Even more challenging, she was required to almost strip naked which she managed while remaining 'boyishly' in character. Few of the mezzos we know could have done this dual feat in my opinion. Australian audiences are accustomed to a diva's husband being on the podium.

It was a pleasure to hear Stephen Bennett again as hapless Egyptian General, especially amongst the sea of sopranos. I think it is high time we heard Caesar himself as a bass-baritone again to more fairly balance the voices in this Handel masterwork. As we lack castratos these days, we can never know exactly what the opera sounded like originally.

Catherine Carby sang well as Cornelia, but like much of the evening, some of her arias could well have been trimmed without loss to the drama. This production is a needlessly long night in the theatre for audience and performers alike (7pm to 11.20pm). In Handel's day few people probably sat through an entire opera uninterrupted. It was Wagner who brought some discipline to such matters. It is a credit to the Australian company that the third act had almost as many seats filled as the first. Some missed the early start, however.

The supporting cast and chorus were also of the highest standard, including the two other counter tenors, Christopher Field and Daniel Goodwin. One must forgive occasional blurts from the brass, especially when they are placed in the auditorium which now seems 'de rigueur'. That aside, the musicians were excellent, ably led by Richard Hickox along with harpsichord and theorbo in keeping with the period. I recall Jane Glover saying that to be successful in Handel, one had to know not only where the important melodic pauses were, but also the REASON why they were put there. It must help to be English.

There are five more performances during October and a better opera experience would be hard to find.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

27 September, 2006

La Rondine in concert at the Sydney Opera House on the equinox

La Rondine - Giacomo Puccini.

Concert performance with Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House.

Saturday 23rd September (the equinox; day after Rosh Hashana and new moon; day before the start of Ramadan Holy Month).

MagdaAlexia Voulgaridou
RuggeroMassimo Giordano
LisetteLaura Cherici
PrunierDanilo Formaggia
RambaldoJosé Carbo
RayonierDidier Frederic
Sydney Philharmonia Choirs
ConductorGianluigi Gelmetti

Dear Colleagues,

This was a splendid performance all round of a neglected masterpiece. The opera (or operetta) needs two top operatic sopranos as well as two top tenors. Tosca could be done in two theatres with much the same vocal input. Most of the main principals in this case were from overseas which seems odd when we have such talent here in Australia awaiting the call from Mr Gelmetti. By contrast, the opera company, I understand, is only permitted to import about 6 singers each year! Here, we heard as many on the one night.

The piece opens brusquely with a full thrust orchestral passage before our characters start introducing themselves individually. There are several such contrasts during the piece going from 'conversation piece' for fortissimo ensemble within a phrase. This well illustrates the best things we are told about being in Paris (or any other vibrant city from Cairo to New York).

Both of our sopranos were top-class. It was a shock to find out early on that "Doretta's aria" is not an aria at all ... and further, that it is not sung by the soprano! At least not initially. We hear the familiar opening arpeggios on the piano as "Doretta's dream" is sung by the poet/gigolo, Prunier. It becomes a duet, or even a duel ... with Magda taking up the poet's offer to supply an appropriate ending to the unfinished 'dream of Doretta'. Everyone has woken up at the most interesting part of a dream. All very clever dramatically: and proof if any were needed of Puccini's paramount skills and of his librettist, Adami.

La Rondine (the swallow) has three acts of half an hour each. One and two were run together with the second taking place at Bullier's nightclub. Here we have drink, merriment, confusion, disguise, mistaken identity and a love scene with myriad opportunities for vocal extravagance.

Act III sees our love birds flown south to the Riviera yet a fatal flaw denies them true happiness, leaving a curtain conundrum. No corpses litter the stage, yet there is to be no happy ending either. Yet another stoke of genius in daring to be different. While in some ways unsatisfactory, this is probably more like real life than any fairy tale operetta. After scintillating romance, life goes on and people just move apart.

The principal singers were all excellent with Ms Voulgaridou giving a sensational performance (especially considering she did the same the night before). She has an icy edge to her voice which she uses to great advantage over a wide range. It is large and well projected with delicate shading. Mr Giordano seemed somewhat casual at times and it was hard to know if it was 'in character' or just 'him'. He sang with flare and taste but seemed a little under-powered compared his role in Mignon at Carnegie Hall last year. Maybe it was jet-lag, another reason to use locals if they are available.

José Carbo sang the relatively small role of Rambaldo, patron and partner of Magda. He sings a creditable Figaro but unfortunately had no real 'factotum' show-piece tonight. I hope he was paid his full fee nonetheless.

The supporting soloists were excellent: soubrettes Penelope Mills, Katherine Tier, Jessica Pratt along with Henry Choo, Didier Frederic and the Philharmonia (massed) Choir.

The orchestra was quite overpowering at times and it was Puccini rather than Gelmetti who resolved the imbalance by thinning the orchestration in the many 'intimate' moments. The sound of orchestra and chorus was most exciting with the excellent acoustic of the concert hall.

Meantime the opera company in the hall opposite on Benelong Point is continuing to produce high quality opera with a revival of Neil Armfield's Jenufa featuring Elizabeth Whitehouse, Jamie Allen, Cheryl Barker and Peter Wedd conducted by Richard Hickox. Jamie Allen has progressed to be able to sing and act flawlessly in diverse roles. I do not understand Janacek and found the raw emotion of the plot unmatched by the music which I just find uninspiring and flat. I know that this is my problem, not Janacek's. However, it must be profoundly disappointing for management to see an opening night so thinly sold.

We look forward to continuing performances of Rigoletto, Julius Caesar and Pirates of Penzance. Also, the company has a promising "50th Birthday Gala Concert" advertised for next month. Like marriages and mortgages, most opera collaborations last less than a decade - so this is an auspicious celebration indeed on the world stage of opera.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

04 September, 2006

Class act: Rigoletto at Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

Friday 1st September 2006

The traditional first day of spring in Australia (and 'Wattle Day' in New South Wales) saw a new and worthy outing of Moshinsky and Yeargan's brilliant production of Rigoletto.

I found it thoroughly enjoyable, proving that it is possible to have rape, kidnapping, murder and arbitrary combatant incarceration without having to warn the audience in advance. The Duke's palace is an arched, panelled Victorian hall updated in Pompeii red to the 1950s. Every bit of wall space is covered with greater or lesser master paintings, the sun admitted through a fenestrated sky-light. The opening party scene has an off-stage recorded orchestra which was somewhat off-putting.

The opera company appears to be expecting much from young tenor Rosario La Spina but he is steadily growing in vocal stature and delivered the goods (and more) as the Duke. There were some moments of magnificent aural 'ping' and fioritura filling the hall with glorious Italianate song. After a slightly hesitant start to 'Questo e quella' he seemed to relax and even show off a little, possibly holding some notes just a bit too long for good taste. He did the second act cabaletta, wisely not attempting the terminal high D. 'La donna e mobile' was also excellent. We sometimes forget that it is so famous partly because it is just so difficult.

Jonathan Summers can still pull it out of the bag. He avoids the highest baritone notes and sang the final 'Ah, la maledizione' on the one level. Yet his voice is velvety with exemplary enunciation and projection. His acting is also totally convincing, keeping in character right to the end of the curtain calls, as if he were truly a crippled hunchback with two sticks.

Natalie Jones was a delicate but exciting Gilda. The 'Caro nome' was studied and accurate, possibly closer to what Verdi would have known than the Callas, Sutherland, Peters and other more recent Gildas we may have become familiar with.

All the minor characters were strongly portrayed and well sung, especially: Catherine Carby as both Giovanna and Maddalena; Judd Arthur as Monterone; Arend Baumann as Sparfucile.

Conductor Andrea Licata seemed to be strict about tempi and kept things moving in this non-stop production.

I would recommend this show to anyone: whether novice or veteran opera goer, all should enjoy it.

Also not to be missed is the colourful Graham Murphy Turandot which I saw again on Saturday 2nd September with Jennifer Wilson, Nicole Youl and Dennis O'Neill (Warren Mok is Calaf for the last 3 performances). Get a ticket if you can: if 'sold out' just ask for the restricted view 'loge' seats ('points' if possible) which are almost NEVER fully sold – good sound and excellent value, too!

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

22 August, 2006

Batavia - an intense, unremitting and negative opera experience

Batavia, an opera tragedy by Richard Mills and Peter Goldsworthy.

Sat 19th Aug 2006, Sydney Opera House.

This macabre story reminds us of all the worst possible things that can go wrong when travelling: transport disasters are nothing new. The opera's opening sees 300 souls leave their native Holland on the good ship Batavia which is wrecked in a storm months later, well off course on an island just north of modern-day Perth, Western Australia. The ensuing drama is something between the Achille Lauro and 'Lost' except that it is based on the historical record from 1628. We set out in the hold of a ship (with 'ribs' reminiscent of the Nuremberg Ring of Stephen Lawless) replete with lined up travelling trunks. The first night on board hosts an unlikely nautical banquet - with stemmed crystal glasses (rather unlikely attributes of 17th century shipping) which become a "window onto the soul". In addition, there is no aural indication that we are on the high seas until we hear hugely amplified crashing waves towards the end of the act with the storm and shipwreck.

Without reading the program notes (which I rarely do) it is hard to work out why the captain keeps singing "I must not fail" when it is clear that he has already failed in his most fundamental duties of going in the right direction and of keeping his ship afloat. It is equally unclear why he is temporarily enfeebled, mind or body, when mutineers take over the survivors' camp. The unities are not observed, nor are the digressions always clear.

A Google search finds the repeated gilded initials 'OC' with interlocking V refer to the "Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie" retourschip (Dutch East India Company ship).

The libretto contains much pleasant poetry, yet this does not seem so much to advance the drama, but to reprise randomly retailed pieces of home-spun wisdom. Some is jagged English which is hard to sing such as a high terminal baritonal "bursts". The opera ends with a needless example of bland moralising, although it is a pleasing major key lullaby sung by Barry Ryan to his two sons who, like us, have witnessed the worst of times.

The story involves numerous bloody on-stage throat cuttings, two drownings, several child killings and a conspicuous down-stage pack rape. In addition there are personal threats, conspiracy, mutiny and numerous other crimes. A note had been sent to patrons warning of the spectacle and offering alternative operas, a service I should have taken up. The extreme 'in your face' violence was gratuitous and unjustified in my view.

One may try to glean what it is the essence of grand opera. Most fundamentally, it needs to contain beauty, vocal and visual. There need not be much, and it can be accompanied by a lot of contrasting ugliness and even depravity and death - yet it was hard to find any Batavian beauty on the night.

But there was some musical beauty in a string quartet perched in the audience 'loges' playing charming chamber music at intervals, apparently taking us back to Holland. For myself, it served largely as a reminder of Mr Mills' ample abilities in recognising tasteful, concordant, integrated concerted music, little of which emerged from the pit. I was told informed that the chamber suit was by Dowling and not Mills. The ego must have been large indeed which decided to place trumpets and trombones in various positions around the auditorium. At one point, they had to play whilst walking up the aisle, and to no particular purpose. Unlike most successful operas, not a single recognisable, discrete melody emerged during the entire long evening to my hearing.

The production involved a lot of hard work and contained some beautiful tableaux. The ship wreck ending Act I was splendid in the theatre, deck planks rising and falling with glistening shafts of light penetrating above and below the encroaching water. The opera's orchestrally silent start and finish seemed, like much of the work, to be attempts to be 'completely different' while only really providing a whole lot 'more of the same'. The influence of Britten could be heard throughout the piece, especially in the recitatives. They remind me of randomly generated cadences on variable note lengths, in this case lacking either poetic meter or alternatively, a speech pattern. Others may enjoy that sort of thing; not I.

As for the individual singers, our captain, Bruce Martin was majestic. Apart from a few minor throaty moments, he kept up the vocal and dramatic tension right to the final kangaroo 'court' scene in which some petitioned clemency eventually softened an otherwise harsh and unremitting story. Amelia Farrugia, Anke Hoppner and Michael Lewis were given vocal scores they should all have declined, so demanding were they in my view. Lewis' role may just have been professionally rewarding, unlike the women who I doubt took home more pleasure than pain from their roles. Lewis' demanding exit aria was sung as he went off to his sentence of amputated hands with subsequent hanging represented graphically in cyclorama silhouette, as if the audience needed a bit more violence. Barry Ryan had some touching tenor singing and was more than equal to the demands. The 4 children singers were placed at an unsatisfactory disadvantage in such a noisy, boisterous opera. This perhaps emphasised their vulnerability but was hardly grand opera as they frequently sounded feeble and flat.

It was most unfortunate that the company did the second performance on Monday, with only one day's break for these heroic vocal roles.

I have rarely had a less satisfying night in the theatre but from the applause, I may have been in the minority.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

See Batavia 1629: A seventeenth century shipwreck on

New season brochure this week indicates new productions for Sydney Opera House of Streetcar, Rusalka, Barber of Seville, Hoffmann and restagings of Nozze di Figaro, Traviata, Sweeney Todd, Alcina, Trovatore, Seraglio, Trittico, Gondoliers, and Tannhauser. Price for standard 9-opera mid-week subscription in second reserve A$1179 (~US$99 per opera). Artists' names at random: Coleman-Wright, Barker, Tahu-Rhodes, Kenny, Coad, Carbo, Whitehouse, La Spina, Durkin, Connelli, Fatykhova, Bloom, O'Neill, Cullen, Ransom, Summers; Armstrong, Hickox, Darlington, Licata, Bonynge.

Local review of Batavia (text only):

17 July, 2006

Turandot in Sydney. Third time lucky (and unlucky!)

Sydney Opera House

Friday July 14 2006

TurandotJennifer Wilson
LiuHye Seoung Kwon
CalafDongwon Shin
PingJohn Pringle
PangHenry Choo
PongKanen Breen
ConductorPatrick Summers
ProductionGraeme Murphy
DesignerKristian Fredrikson

Dear Colleagues,

After two less-than-satisfactory starts to the winter season (Lakmé and Clemenza di Tito) this Turandot was a night to remember for many reasons. It was a rainy, miserable night but all the finery was out for this show. Opera boss Adrian Collette announced the difficulties of replacing Dennis O'Neill at 3 days notice with Mr Shin flown in from America only the day before and singing without a rehearsal (and without a central stage prompter!). One wonders what would have happened if there was 3 hours notice of illness which occasionally occurs in the theatre.

This performance warmed up with each act improving on the last and a final triumph of voice, melody, movement, colour and drama of which I believe the composer would have been delighted.

Ms Wilson sang creditably. She had all the notes and was dramatic and exciting. Her 'In questa reggia' was a tour-de-force.

alt="Old poster of a long ago performance of Turandot" />

Mr Shin sang well but seemed under-powered initially, especially in the lower range. He rose to the occasion for 'Nessun dorma', ending on a magnificent high cadence which seemed to go on forever, loudly applauded, but without a musical break. His acting was slightly stiff but one must make allowances as he had never rehearsed this production. He sang the role at Santa Fe, along with many other major roles in minor houses in the US.

Ms Kwon made an excellent Liu, receiving a huge ovation at the end. The Korean ambassador had travelled from Canberra for the occasion with two of his citizens in the operatic lime light.

Mr Murphy's production is a masterpiece of colour and movement. He uses waving ribbons on sticks, extended hands, crowd 'rolls', shadows and many other 'tricks' to move the action along. His genius makes Ping Pang and Pong's scenes bearable and now, subtitles inform us that their 'chatter' could make a good episode of 'Yes Minister'. The opera chorus performed many synchronised stage feats in addition to their fine ensemble singing, as did the children's chorus.

Patrick Summers' conducting was animated, bringing tension, beauty and volume from members of the Opera and Ballet Orchestra. He got straight into the opera without delay or ceremony, receiving huge and appreciative applause at appropriate times. Summers was let down on a couple of minor occasions in the first and last acts with some brass glitches but with an excellent overall effect.

Jud Arthur was well cast this time as Timur, a role well within his substantial abilities. Henry Choo, Kanen Breen and John Pringle played 3 fine public servants while Shane Lowrencev opened the piece as an adequate town crier.

One hopes that the season will settle down, Mr O'Neill will regain his health and that as many Sydney-siders as possible will be able to witness this marvellous spectacle over the next month or so.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

The Melba - JC Williamson Tour of 1928

alt="Front page Sydney Morning Herald 1928" />
Sydney Morning Herald

Dear Colleagues,

When renovating my doctor's office I came upon some old Sydney newspapers.

Imagine my surprise in finding a series of opera reviews from 1928! This was a visit from an Italian company in collaboration with the Melba - JC Williamson Company. Some were printed the day after the performance, something which rarely happens these days. Also, reviews were anonymous then, yet these are opinionated, reflecting some interesting mores of the day. This was not a travelling company of 'unknowns'!

I am grateful for some details kindly provided by Bob Rideout of the USA:

I read with a great deal of interest Andrew Byrne's posting on the 1928 tour. I'll fill in some of the gaps for those who may be interested.

The roster included Giannina Arangi Lombardi, Tot Dal Monte, Hina Spani, Lina Scavizzi, Xenia Belmas, Giuseppina Zinetti, Angelo Minghetti, Francesco Merli, Enzo di Muro Lomanto, Apollo Granforte, Luigi Rossi Morelli, Fernando Autori, and the father of Loretta Corelli, Umberto Di Lelio. There were others but those were the names that you might easily know.

Nellie Melba sang with the company several times and made her final "final" operatic farewell on 2 October 1928 when she appeared at Adelaide in the last three acts of "La Boheme" with Mighetti, and closed the book with the "Salce" and "Ave Maria" from "Otello".

Xenia Belmas, a singer whose name will be known to some of you, was scheduled for a good number of performances, but somewhere along the way, Arangi Lombardi replaced her as Santuzza, and Belmas ended up singing a few concerts, divorced from the main company during the major portion of its stay. It was termed an "Italian Conspiracy" and caused a great deal of fuss, as did the replacement of John Brownlee, who had sung a few performances at the beginning of the season, with Apollo Granforte in "Pagliacci" and "Aida".

It was a very successful tour, but there was a lot of bad press about those and other intrigues. Dal Monte saw to it that fairly early on both Minghetti and Granforte were booted from her performances of "Rigoletto" and it was only near the end of the tour at Perth and Adelaide that they resumed their original assignments. Midway in the tour, Dal Monte and De Muro Lomanto were married at St, Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, and Arangi Lombardi, who was Dal Monte's maid of honour, sang an Ave Maria by Mercadante, 'exquisitely', said the press. At the service's conclusion, the wedding party gave the Fascist salute on the cathedral steps. Photographers had a "field day" and the story made headlines throughout the continent, and beyond.

I would imagine that the most important event on the tour was the Australian premiere of "Turandot" with Arangi and Merli. They received rave notices througout the season though the opera was treated somewhat less kindly.

In any case, the tour remains one of the most famous events in the history of opera "Down Under", or, "Opera for the Antipodes" as a wonderful reference work by Alison Gyger would have it.

Dates of Melba-Williamson season:

  • Turnadot

  • Fille was the second night of season (Mon 9th July) and review appeared in next day's paper.

  • next night was Thais.

  • Saturday 21st July night was Butterfly and review Mon 23 SMH.

  • Wednesday matinee? Trovatore Sat Aug 25th, review on 27th SMH.

  • Mon 27th was Hoffmann.

  • Tues 28th was Turandot.

  • Wed 29th August matinee Hoffmann; night: Manon Lescaut;

  • Thursday 30th 1928 Il Trovatore;

  • Friday 31st Rigoletto;

  • Sat 1 September matinee: Hoffmann; evening: L'Amore Dei Tre Re.

Monday 27th August

The cast of to-night's performance of "Tales of Hoffmann" at Her Majesty's Theatre includes Toti Dal Monte, Enzo de Muro Lomanto, Apollo Granforte, Aurora Rettore, Giuseppi Satariarno, and Luisa Banetti.

Coming performances

To-morrow night: "Turandot" will be presented. The management announced this as the last evening performance of the opera. On Wednesday afternoon, the opera is "Tales of Hoffmann;" on Wednesday night, "Manon. Lescaut;" on Thursday night, "Il Trovatore;" on Friday, "Rigoletto:" and on Saturday afternoon, "Tales of Hoffmann." Next Saturday night, Montemezzi's romantic opera, "L'Amore Dei Tre Re" will be presented for the first time in Sydney.

Newtown Majestic

"THE ROBBERS" The enterprise of Mr. Alfred Gordon Kalmikoff in producing for the first time in Sydney Schiller's great drama "The Robbers" at the Majestic Theatre, Newtown, was rewarded on Saturday by large audiences at both the matinee and evening performances. 'The Robbers' is a play so full of conflicting emotions that if cannot fail to have a strong appeal.

The plot, which centres around the family of the aged Count Maimilian, portrays the most different in character between the count's two sons, Charles and Francis. The latter wishing to get his elder brother disinherited, intercepts a letter which Charles has written to his father pleading for forgiveness, and reads a forged letter to the Count, making it appear that it was sent by an old friend giving instances of Charles' misdeeds. The count, broken-hearted, asks Francis to send a firm letter to Charles, but not to drive him to despair. Francis, on the contrary, writes that his father had cursed him, and does not want to see him any more: Charles, broken hearted, becomes the chief of a band of robbers.

The part of Francis was taken by Mr Kalmikoff, who in that difficult role found plenty of scope to show his versatility. His interpretation was perfect, and be invested the character with an impressive realism that *pleased* the audience. He achieved a <snip>

'Sepia' reviews of
Fille du Regiment and
Butterfly were transcribed manually by Andrew Byrne. Note there were also several items under the heading: "Story of Tonight's Opera", including Thais, Tales of Hoffmann and others.

I am grateful for some details kindly provided by Bob Rideout of the USA.

13 July, 2006

Grand Opera - Il Trovatore - Old review from roaring 20's in Sydney town

"Il Trovatore" at Her Majesty's Theatre

Saturday 25th August 1928

"Il Trovatore" is the most tuneful of all Verdi's scores - some say the most tuneful in all Italian opera - but it is also the most thinly orchestrated. To modern ears, accustomed to the rich harmonic backgrounds and counter-melodies of Puccini and Wagner, or even to the later Verdi, exemplified in "Aida," the perfunctory vampings on the harp and broken chords on the violins pianissimo that accompany some of the stormy arias in "Il Trovatore" must perforce seem hopelessly insipid. In this opera Verdi has thrown almost all the responsibility for emotional effect upon the voices. The vocal line, pure and unadorned, must portray the feeling that lies behind the dialogue. That it usually does this very vividly is a sign of the inherent genius in the composer which was to find fuller expression later in "Otello" and "Falstaff." But this fact makes it important that the opera should be beautifully sung. In more complex works, even if the singers be indifferent, the orchestration will often of itself keep interest at a high pitch; but in "Il Trovatore" indifferent singing means disaster.

It is needless to say, considering the standard of the present Melba - J. C. Williamson company as shown in earlier productions of the season, that Saturday night's singing at Her Majesty's Theatre was far from indifferent. Indeed, it was superb. The old, well-worn arias like "Stride la vampa" and "Tacea la notte" took on new beauties, so that one listened to them as to things possessing all the warm freshness of youth. The singers had to respond again and again to surging applause, not only at the end of each act, but during the progress of the opera as well. In later examples of opera it is often disconcerting when the conductor has to stand with poised baton while the vocalist bows to the audience: but on Saturday night Signora Arangi Lombardi in the role of Leonora, walked across to the footlights from the porch on the right (whither Leonora had retreated after the last notes of "Tacea la notte"), bowed again and again, and went back to the porch in order that she might descry the Count di Luna in the shadows, without the audience feeling that there was anything at all amiss. The plot of "II Trovatore," with all its blood and thunder, never gives the slightest illusion if reality; and, after all, it is only the braking of an illusion that makes objectionable an actor's response to his audience's acclaim. The opera amounts to little more than a series of arias threaded together like beads on a string.

The role of Leonora showed Lombardi to her admirers in a new light. Hitherto, they have heard her in heavier dramatic roles. It was a wonderful tribute to her art that the voice which rang out so triumphantly in "Aida" and in "Turandot" could adapt itself on Saturday night to the style of the earlier Verdi which, while it has its dramatic moments is predominantly florid and fluid. She reached her highest peak of achievement in the first scene of the last act, in the aria "D'amor sull ali rosee." Radiant and pure, her voice soared up to some of the most exquisite pianissimos imaginable on the high notes. Once again the sympathetic warmth of her tone in all parts of the range, and the repose with which she produces were there constantly to delight the audience. It was no wonder that applause burst forth with a tremendous crash when she had finished. The clapping was much more vigorous here than after the 'Miserere' immediately following which calls forth its need of enthusiasm because of the very familiarity of the music. But if "D'amor sul ali rosee" proved Lombardi's artistic triumph, it was not so surprising from a technical point of view as the later solo, "Mira d'acerbe lagrime" wherein she adapted her voice admirably to the demands of the swift ascending and descending phrases, which call for a coloratura rather than a dramatic soprano.

The tenor role of Manrico was sung by Francesco Merli. He invested it with a robustness of voice and of bearing that could not fail to be appealing. In the duet with Leonora, near the end of the third act, and in Manrico's exhortation of his soldiers which brings that act to so spirited a close his quality was particularly fine. The highest notes rang forth with a clear overtone, powerful yet unforced. Apollo Granforte, also, as the Count di Luna interpreted with authority. His solo "Il Balen," in the cloister scene, alternated between a full, commanding, and resonantly warm tone and tender phrases in pianissimo that won admiration from the audience for their exquisite emotional value and for the control over production which they betokened. The beautifully judged proportion in this reading commended itself to the audience, so that applause was loud and long.

Guiseppina Zinetti, as the turbulent gipsy Azucena, sang with a great deal of fire, especially in "Stride la vampa," and the following declamation. The acting, also, was strongly dramatic too. The rolling of the eyes, as of a wild animal at bay', when Azucena was captured and questioned by di Luna, gave the scene of the encampment a touch of tragedy that surpassed any supplied by the music. Fernando Autori sang freely and impressively the long narrative allotted to Ferrando in the opening scene; Ida Mannarini made a satisfactory Ines, and Lulgi Parodi sang the two small parts of a messenger and soldier.

As the opera season goes on it becomes superfluous to call attention to the excellent work of the chorus. Even such a hurdygurdy-like melody as that which opens the third act of "Il Trovatore" became lively and interesting as these choristers sang it on Saturday night. In the cloister scene there was an exquisite contrast between the martial tones of the male chorus on the stage (albeit this chorus sang very softly) and the ethereal floating chant of female voices that drifted on from behind the scenes.

Signor Antonio Fugazzola conducted the orchestra. He did all that could he done with Verdi's tenuous score. The climaxes were always crisp and vigorous; the conventional accompaniments always suave and flowing.

As far as the settings were concerned: one of them deserves special praise, as the most tenderly beautiful of any that have been seen during the present season. It was that for the Miserere scene. Across the battlements there for the Miserere scene there appeared on the right a long wing of the palace, and on the left an entrancing view of a river winding its way into the distance in gleaming silvery curves, beneath the light of the moon. It was the lighting of this scene that rendered it so effective. The part played by electricians in the staging of an opera is not often enough recognised.

The Attendance

More than half the eight scenes of "Il Trovatore" are enacted in the deep purple shadows of the convent cloister, the ante-room of the palace, and the prison cell, so that the onlooker's eye had to become accustomed to the dim half-light, in which Signora Lombardi's diamonds and the beading on her robes, catching an occasional ray of light, flashed back and provided the only gleam. There was vivid contrast between these scenes and those of gypsy camp and of the camp of the Count di Luna. The scarlet handkerchiefs, skirts and gaudy trinkets of the gipsy girls and the shining helmets of the soldiers seemed all the brighter after the gloomy preceding scenes. Arangi Lombardi, whose husband, Signor Arangi, watched her performance from the dress circle, wore several gorgeous gowns made in the long-trained fashion of the fifteenth century. The most beautiful of them was her wedding gown in the third act. Of white satin richly stamped in a golden coral pattern, it was almost covered with a long white veil, caught in her head with a quaint coronet with upstanding wings of gold. The dull red of Merli's wedding garments, and the vivid scarlet of the brocaded curtains at the back of the stage, made a perfect setting for her white an gold gown. Granforte as the Count di Luna was even more gorgeously arrayed, and Zanetti wore for her gypsy dress some beautiful hand woven clothes patterned in striking colours, which she had brought with her from Italy.

Lina Scavizzi was among the audience in the dress circle. Judge and Mrs Heydon occupied one box, and Dr and Mrs Donald Finlay and Mr and Mrs Mervyn Finlay were in the other. Others in the audience were the Misses Sheldon (2), Sir Hugh and Lady Denison, Mr and Mrs Sep Levy, Mr and Mrs R. E. Denison, Mr and Mrs Spenser Brunton, Miss Jessie Tait, Mr. and Mrs. F. J. Davy, Mrs S Hordern, Mrs. Woolf (Perth), Mr Henry Braddon, Judge and Mrs. James, Mr and Mrs Dennis Allen, Mrs Leo Quick, Dr and Mrs Harry Harris, Miss Nell Cobcroft, Dr and Mrs Herbert Marks, Mrs Spencer Watts, Mrs. R. M. Sly, Mrs. W. F. Foster, Mrs. W. A. Dettman, Miss N. Garvan, Mr and Mrs. Norman Pope, Mrs C. Kingston (Melbourne), Dr and Mrs Crawford Robertson, Mr and Mrs A. Nathan, Dr and Mrs. H. Clayton, Mrs Hugh Ward, Mr and Mrs. Kelso King, Mrs. W. Malden, the consul for Italy and Donna Grossardt, Mrs T. Hogan, Mrs Hartley D'argent, Dr and Mrs Godsall.

Review found in The Sydney Morning Herald Monday August 27 1928

This is one of three reviews of the Melba - Williamson Tour of 1928 discovered under Dr.Byrnes surgery floor during renovations.

10 July, 2006

Grand Opera - Madame Butterfly - Emotional Acting and Singing

"Madame Butterfly" at Her Majesty's Theatre

Saturday 21st July 1928

Puccini's rich vein of melody in "Madame Butterfly" charmed a great house at Her Majesty's Theatre on Saturday night. The music of this opera, of extremely emotional and yet so graceful, with voices and orchestra blended in eloquent harmonies, is among the most popular as well as the most attractive written by the composer, and Saturday night's fine cast gave admirable expression to its moods, particularly in the famous love duet of Butterfly and Pinkerton at the close of the first act, and the last tragic scene of all, in which the Japanese girl's realisation of her base desertion by Pinkerton leads to her death. Signor Pugazzola, who conducted, showed pronounced temperament, for though in parts of the first act and on occasions in the second his tempos were rather studied, and the orchestra was now and then too loud for the singers, he gave an admirably animated and sincere reading of the principal events of the second act, and of the poignant final scenes of the opera.

Senorita Hina Spani sounded the true note of tragedy in these last scenes. While the artist was mature in the role of Butterfly, one completely forgot this fact in the power and beauty of her acting and singing. Surely the closing moments of the hapless Butterfly's life have never been portrayed with greater pathos or conviction. It was a singular and moving interpretation, and distinguished at the same time for perfect artistic restraint. All concerned in the events immediately leading up to this climax furnished worthy support to the heroine, and Signor Angelo Minghetti's cry of bitter remorse as Pinkerton rushed in upon the tragedy as the curtain fell, was very real. Many recalls here and after the previous acts marked a high note of enthusiasm on the part of the audience.

Signor Minghetti's Pinkerton was marked for the most part by the well-judged fervour which has distinguished the artist's studies of character this season. He was rather too serious in the first part of the opera, however, and his reading of "Dovunque al mondo" missed the care-free spirit of this solo, so curiously interrupted by the naval officer's invitation to his friend Sharpless to have a drink. Pinkerton at this point, regarding the whole business of the Japanese marriage as a mere adventure, is toasting the day on which he shall wed an American wife. Signor Minghetti, on the other hand, appeared rather concerned, and even worried, his demeanour implying that Pinkerton was already ashamed of the cowardly plan upon which he had embarked, in which "the frail wings of Butterfly" were to be broken. Except for this, be gave an excellent study of the role, and his acting in the last scene was brilliant.

The celebrated love duet which forms the climax to the first act, following the marriage celebration, was magnificently sung by Senorita Spani and Signor Minghetti. Beginning with the tenor's impassioned "Bimba dagli occhi," the duet went on, supported by glowing themes for the orchestra, sustained in a wonderfully constructed web of tone in one of the most fervent scenes written by Puccini. The spirit of the situation was faithfully conveyed by the singers and orchestra, the curtain failing with the enthusiasm of the people breaking in upon the rich ensemble. Senorita Spani, coming on at the head of her group of attendant maidens at her first entrance across the bridge-a picturesque setting overlooking the harbour of Nagasaki, with great groups of cherry blossom giving added colour to the spectacle - depicted artistically the timidity of Butterfly, and her terror at her denunciations by the Bonze. Butterfly's first solo was given with great charm - indeed, all her music was notable by its expression and warmth of colour.

There is no overture to "Madame Butterfly," its place being taken by the bright, vivacious introduction, in which the theme is gaily announced, first by the leading strings, and caught up in turn by the second violins, violas, and ‘cellos. This introduction leads at once to the first conversation in which Pinkerton discusses his new house with Goro - the marriage broker, a character skilfully and animatedly impersonated by Signor Luigi Cilla. The orchestra developed piquantly for the most part all the captivating themes of this scene, and of the marriage celebration, enunciating also the sombre phases of the story, first hinted at in Butterfly's Song of the Mission. The work of the chorus was also highly effective.

Signorina Ida Mannarini was an excellent Suzuki, giving this role an importance histrionically which it has not always attained. Her share of the jubilant duet of the second act, in which Butterfly and her maid, excited at the prospect of Pinkerton's return, scattered the cherry blossom about the room - one of the most charming melodies of the score - furnished worthy support to the soprano. Signor Emilio Ghiardini was a capital Sharpless, appropriately easy in manner, and singing his music resonantly and with remarkably clear diction. One of the features of the night was the delivery of the trio in the last act - for Suzuki, Pinkerton, and Sharpless. Miss Dora Warby appeared in this scene as the American wife of Pinkerton, an attractive figure in her modern gown. Little Nellie Melba Tornari was the child Trouble, who is carried in by Butterfly to confront the dejected Sharpless, while the orchestra plunges into an ensemble of triumph.

The Attendance

The performance was witnessed by a large audience, which included the Governor-General, Lord Stonehaven, Lady de Chair, and members of their party, among whom were Lady Street, Miss Chamberlain, and Mrs Watson Holdship.

Lady deChair wore a gown of midnight blue under her evening cloak of Parma violet georgette, which was patterned with a deeper shade of violet, and had a velvet collar of the deeper shade also. Lady Street covered her gown with a coat of oriental lame trimmed with fur. Mrs Watson Holdship and Miss Chamberlain were both frocked in black. Tote dal Monte and her fiancé, Signor de Muro Lomanto, were present in the manager's box. They arrived after the performance had begun, and as soon as the lights went up after the conclusion of the act the crowd quickly recognised them. It was the signal for great applause, which Toti acknowledged with many bows, hand waves, and throwing of kisses. Lomanto also came to the edge of the box and acknowledged the congratulatory demonstration.

Toti dal Monte wore a frock of gold lame, trimmed with flowers on the corsage, Scavizzi in a frock of black, heavily embroidered in silver and rhinestones. Vere de Cristoff, Mr. John Brownlee, and his sister, Miss Brownlee were others in this party.

Among the audience were Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Hay, Mrs. Spencer Watts. Mrs. S. Hordern, Mrs. W. Watson, Mr. and Mrs. Norman Pope, Mr. and Mrs. Bert McDonald, Mr. and Mrs. T. Mutch, and Mr. and Mrs. Kelso King. Mrs E. W. Knox, Miss Barbara Knox, Miss Mary Adams, Mr. and Mrs. Denis Allen, Sir Hugh and Lady Denison, Mr. and Mrs. R. Denison, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Brunton, Mrs. F de V. Lamb, Miss Consett Stephen, Sir Alexander and Lady MacCormick, Miss Morna MacCormick, Mrs. Gordon Wesche, Mr. and Mrs. Rabett, Mrs. Paterson, Miss Nan Garvan, Dr and Mrs. Crawford Robertson, Mr. and Mrs. Sep Levy, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Eedy; Mrs. D. Maughan, Mrs. Hartley Sargent, Mrs.W. Holman, Mrs. Willie Anderson, and Dr. and Mrs. Herbert Marks.

Review found in The Sydney Morning Herald Monday July 23 1928

This is one of three reviews of the Melba - Williamson Tour of 1928 discovered under Dr.Byrnes surgery floor during renovations.

07 July, 2006

Grand Opera - Toti dal Monte's Success

"The Daughter of the Regiment" at Her Majesty's

Monday 9th July 1928

Signorina Toti dal Monte, the gay, lighthearted vivandiere to the life in her vivacity and charm, was the central figure in last night's opera "The daughter of the Regiment," at Her Majesty's. Naturally, there was a great welcome for her. Having captured the affections of the Sydney public when she first came here four years ago, she has strengthened her popularity at each of her appearances since that time. Last night her winsome graces and merry sense of comedy gave new life and interest to the role of Donizetti's heroine, Marie, the protege of the Swiss regiment of grenadiers, and her vocal brilliancy brought fresh distinction to this old opera, which had manifestly been chosen for the occasion, the second night of the season, because it furnishes a role for an artist who is at once an accomplished coloratura singer and a spirited comedy actress.

It needed the coquettish humour and polished vocal style of a Dal Monte to revive interest in a work of such slender harmonic values. Music has advanced since the days when Marie was a favourite role with Jenny Lind and Patti. Donizetti's lightly-scored pages are decidedly thin to ears accustomed to the robust polyphony of the Wagnerian school and the later Verdi. Yet they contain plenty of agreeable melody; and Commendatore Bavagnoli, who conducted last night's performance, imparted subtle charm to these melodic qualities by his fresh, spontaneous reading of the score. Toti dal Monte, on her part, sang the title-role in just the right spirit, and brightly carried the piece to a success which led to many recalls after each of the two acts.

One reason why Donizetti's harmonic design appeared so tenuous was that the opera was preceded by Beethoven's great "Leonora" Overture No. 3. This overture, distinguished by its imposing proportions and the marvellous breadth of its orchestration, was composed long before "The Daughter of the Regiment," yet it remains as vigorous and compelling to-day as if it belonged to the modern school. Commendatore Bavagnoli led a fine performance of this overture, his interpretation being notable for due restraint, judicious balance, and exceeding beauty of tone. He aimed at a perfectly-proportioned tonepicture, and thus secured a well-judged development of the working-out of the themes, and accordingly brought the powerful coda into proper relief. Wagner declared that this work, instead of being merely an overture to a music-drama, partook rather of the character of the music-drama itself, so dramatic is its design. Beethoven wrote four overtures for his "Fidelio." "Leonora" No. 2 was the one played at the first performance of the opera in Vienna. The opera was then revised, and at its further production on March 29, 1806, "Leonora" No. 3, a remodelled form of No. 2, was performed. In its new design it proved of much greater emotional value than the one which preceded it. Last night's interpretation developed this phase with stirring effect. The bold introduction, an adagio in C, was admirably enunciated; Florestan's aria was given due importance, and in the development of the melodious principal and second subjects the conductor led his forces in magnificent climaxes with the distant trumpet calls artistically delivered. The performance showed the high qualities of the orchestra as a concert organisation, and stimulated a desire to hear it in a full orchestral programme at some future date, before the season ends.

Signorina Toti dal Monte, coming on early in the first scene of the opera, captured the house by the beauty and finish of her singing in her first aria, "Apparvi alla luce," a coloratura theme in which the cadenza at the end was brilliantly vocalised. She entered into the spirit of the role with great vivacity, brightly acting in the exercise drill duet at this point with Signor Umberto de Lelio, who was admirable as Sergeant Sulpice, the gruff old veteran of the Grenadiers.

In the opening scene, a beautiful picture of a Tyrolean rustic scene, with the high peaks of the Alps in the distance beneath a blue sky, a company of peasants, as the curtain rose, was discovered deeply concerned in the fortunes of a battle proceeding not far away. Here there was a notable example ot the excellent training of the chorus, in the mezza voce "Silenzio" of the rustics grouped on the high pass in the middle distance, the defiant song of the stalwarts against the enemy, and the gentle prayers of the women, fearful of the approaching danger. News having been brought that the foe had been routed, all joined in an ensemble of rejoicing, given with fine spirit. When Marie, hailed by the old Sergeant as "the jewel and the glory of the famous Twentieth Regiment," tripped on by the high pass as the villagers dispersed, all attention was centred upon the brightness and animation of Toti dal Monte with Umberto de Lelio as her comrade in a sprightly interpretation of the "Rataplan" duet, as they paced up and down in their mock-ceremonial drill.

Tonio, hustled in at this stage by the soldiers, was impersonated by Signor de Muro Lomanto. The new tenor, youthful and of good presence, has a light voice of agreeable quality, and sang his music expressively, while proving himself a talented actor. Interest in this scene was enhanced by the tuneful "Song of the Regiment," delivered with rhythmical charm by Signorina dal Monte, who managed the mezza voce flights of vocalisation with the utmost grace, and at the end descended the scale from high A with perfectly even tone in a captivating climax. The charm of the artist's singing consisted in the fact that all this ornamental music was endowed, with such sympathetic quality aid warmth of colour. The melodious duet for the lovers, "A voi cosi ardente," was delightfully sung by Signorina dal Monte and Signor Lomanto.

The lyrical beauty of "Convien partir," so familiar on the concert platform, was another feature of the soprano's music. She sang this aria with exceeding conviction to a well- played obbligato of 'cello and flute, and the choral ensemble of the soldiers echoing her "addios" was excellent. Marie is obliged to leave her beloved Grenadiers to assume her proper position in society at the home of the Marchioness of Berkenfield, but her new surroundings prove irksome, and in the amusing singing lesson scene of the second act Signorina dal Monte fully proved her delightful gifts in comedy by the affected airs with which she imitated the severe Marchioness directing the rehearsal of her new song, exclaimed petulantly against her task, and suddenly broke in upon the melody of the lesson by taking up the strains of the "Song of the Regiment" and the "Rataplan" theme with Signor do Lelio, to the amazement and despair of the Marchioness, a role well played by Signorina Ida Mannarini. Signor Oreste Carozzi sang well as Ortensio, steward to the Marchioness, and Signor Satariano attracted attention by his admirable sense of comedy as the corporal of the Grenadiers. The orchestral introduction to the second act, a minuet theme was played delightfully.

The Attendance

The second night of the opera did not provide anything arresting in the way of dressing. The large audience seemed to regard the music as the only thing that mattered, and the interest of everyone was concentrated on it. In the upper circle there was the sound of leaves surreptitiously turned over as interested students followed the score. Hurried comments, muttered sotto voce, punctuated long spells of silence. In the dress circle, and stalls too, it seemed as if the music enthralled, for there was little conversation and not the exchange of greetings that usually occurs during the intervals. Lady de Chair was present with Miss de Chair, Mrs Busby, and Mrs. W. Mackay. Lady de Chair wore a black gown covered with a black and gold cloak. Mrs Busby and Miss de Chair were also in black, and Mrs W. Mackay wore a frock of petunia red georgette.

Francesco Merli, whose interpretation of "Radames" in Aida, gave such pleasure on Saturday night, occupied a box with his wife and son. Sir Joynton Smith and party had the opposite box.

Among the large audience were Dr. Nigel Smith, Mrs. Lane Mullens, Mr. and Mrs. Watts, Dr. and Mrs. Moran, Lady Rickard, the Misses Rirkard, Mrs Chas Danvors, Dr. and Mrs. Kater, Sir Mark and Lady Sheldon, Miss Owen, Miss Calahan, Mrs. W. A. Dettmou, Sir James and Lady Fairfax.

Mrs. H. Clayton, Mr. and Mrs. George Flannery, Mrs. H. E. Ross, Miss Marie Sussmilch, Mr D Sussmilch, Mr. and Mrs R. W. Chambers, Mrs. Eva Wunderlich, Mr. Bryan Judge and Mrs. Sly. Dr. Mary Booth, Miss Booth, Mrs. J. J. Rouse. Miss S. Russell, Mrs. Arthur Allen, Miss Marcia Allen, Mr. and Mrs. Lancley, Mrs. W. Foster, Mrs. Hartley Sargent, Miss A. Levy, Mr. and Mrs. N. Pope, Mrs. Florence Taylor, Mr. and Mrs. Donald Bourke, Mr. and Mrs. F. Davy.

Dr. and Mrs. Sinclair Gillies, Dr. C. Robertson, Mr. and Mrs. Justly Rawlings, Dr. Barrington., Sir John and Lady Vicars, Mr. and Mrs. Sep Levy, Mr. Justice and Mrs. James, Miss E. K. Wise, Dr. S. H. Harris, Mrs. Samuel Hordern, Mrs. Hill, Mrs. Gordon, Miss Margaret Gordon, Miss Beth Gordon, and Miss Annis Parsons.

Review found in The Sydney Morning Herald Tuesday July 10 1928

This is one of three reviews of the Melba - Williamson Tour of 1928 discovered under Dr.Byrnes surgery floor during renovations.

28 June, 2006

Where was Joan Sutherland last night? At Bollywood Lakme Gala in Sydney!

Opera Australia Chorus and the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, Sydney Opera House

28th June 2006

Dear Colleagues,

Last night we endured a lack-lustre Lakmé opening at the Sydney Opera House conducted by Richard Bonynge in the presence of Joan Sutherland who must have winced more than once.

This opera is a useful vehicle for a phenomenal soprano who comes along every now and then down the decades. One wonders at company management placing able singers into parts for which they just seem unsuited (tenor Jaewoo Kim as Gerald was the exception - he was excellent).

Even Bonynge's conducting seemed slow and uninspired.


Andrew Byrne ..

08 May, 2006

Tosca at the Met - May 8 - A night to forget

Metropolitan Opera

Monday 8th May 2006

ToscaDeborah Voigt
ScarpiaJames Morris
CavaradossiFranco Farina
SacristanPaul Plishka
ConductorCarlo Rizzi
Production and setsFranco Zeffirelli

Dear Colleagues,

This opera was up-staged to some extent by Mr Blaine in his huge water bubble in front of the opera house. The entire quadrangle was filled with people and a out-door screen set up for the spectacle of seeing a fellow citizen almost drown. Intermission saw hundreds more craning from every vantage to take a glimpse of the magnified image of Mr Blaine. Apparently he broke the submersion record but not the breath-holding one (which may be held by Monserrat Caballe).

This Met run has been subject of much discussion. Marcello Giordani had pulled out some weeks ago and Cavaradossi was to be played by Franco Farina. The great draw-card was still Ms Voigt whose return to the stage last year, slim and post operative was also of great interest.

alt="Old poster of a long ago performance of Tosca" />
Old poster of a long ago
performance of Tosca

I have never heard so much male "wobble" on stage as in this first act. Three veterans were guilty of this rather major vocal sin. For Plishka and Morris there are compensations but for Farina there were none as he sang badly for the first two acts. He belted out his music in the most unfortunate manner such that I felt people around me cringing, as I was. Farina forced, bleated and crooned his way throughout the first act in a most unseemly and tasteless manner. He was quite loud and sang on pitch and that seems to be enough for some people. There was some respite in Act III when he produced some much awaited musical magic and 'dolcezza'. 'E lucevan le stelle' was creditable, despite a falsetto diminuendo, while the duet singing 'worked', including the unaccompanied 'triumph' declamation. Perhaps he was more relaxed by this time of the proceedings.

Voigt received a polite ovation even before she sang an aria. Her Act I performance was just fine and in Act II she surpassed herself in both the 'Vissi d'arte' and its drama. Voigt took the opportunity to stab Scarpia on two occasions and he took several bars longer than usual to die in Act II. Farina's 'Vittoria' section was on key and large but lacked any beauty. More 'cringe' music.

Morris sang strongly but his persistent beat is off-putting and ugly. His 'Te deum' scene was adequate. Some would have preferred his act three.

I am pleased that Carlo Rizzi did not try to put his own stamp on the music. His tempi were classical and sympathetic. His orchestra members know what they are doing - with prominent low woodwinds and brass as Puccini mandated.

Not a high point of opera going for me. But an opportunity for a new audience to see the magnificent Zeffirelli production. Just to be a bit picky about an otherwise splendid 'realistic' rendition, I still don't know why Baron Scarpia has a flimsy little single bed in his chamber (I don't recall it being used), nor is it clear why Angelotti is so well dressed after months in jail. The alter portrait would appear to lack the detail to recognise a face or even to tell if the woman is blond, as required in the libretto.

New York streets were in chaos after the opera due to the added spectacle, huge crowds, traffic, closed lanes on Broadway, ambulance and fire trucks to boot. I was pleased to be on foot.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

07 May, 2006

Il Tabarro / Gianni Schicchi

Hunter College

Sun 7 May 2006 3pm

Dear Colleagues,

New Yorkers who were not there missed a treat this weekend. Two of the three Trittico operas were great value at $30 per seat. In the small but adequate Danny Kaye hall we heard two fully staged works Puccini would have been proud of. Il Tabarro was set traditionally with most of the stage being a sideways barge on the Seine and the Paris skyline horizon of dusk beyond and a huge full moon.

The production of Schicchi was unique and original in several ways. Making a boon of the small stage, somebody had the brilliant idea of 'parking' Buoso's body within the frame of an old portrait up on a mantle (where it slipped on cue with dictation of the new will!). Additionally, rather than the skyline of Fiorenze, we have baby dolls' houses near the foot lights including many 'rooms with views' as well as Brunelleschi's Duomo, Santa Croce, Piazza della Signoria and Tower of Giotto.

As most readers know, the Trittico can be a difficult to mount as a Ring opera. Each is a gem of the theatre and nobody should have been disappointed at the members of the Mannes Opera, conducted by Joseph Colaneri, directed by Laura Alley on sets designed by Roger Hanna.

All twenty or more singers were excellent but stand-out performances came from Vira Slywotzky as Giorgetta; Young Joo An as Michele (and doctor/notary in Schicchi); Yonghoon Lee as Luigi; Andrew Ahlquist as the street singer; Chee Shen Tan as Rinuccio; Marcelo Guzzo as Schcchi; Sookyung Ahn as Lauretta.

The orchestra was strong, balanced and well led. The acoustics and size of the hall produced one of the loudest and most immediate opera experiences I have even had. Goose bumps all over on several occasions - more than the last three full operas at the Met, not that such comparisons are fair.

Congratulations to this small company. Professional standards at amateur prices.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

02 May, 2006

Rodelinda Gala

The Metropolitan Opera, New York City

Friday May 2 2006

RodelindaRenée Fleming
GrimoaldoKobie van Rensburg
GaribaldiJohn Relyea
EduigeStephanie Blythe
BertaridoAndreas Scholl
UnulfoChristophe Dumaux
FlavioZachary Vail Elkind
ConductorPatrick Summers
ProductionStephen Wadsworth
SetsThomas Lynch

Dear Colleagues,

The Met Rodelinda is worth the price, if just for the beautiful sets. And remarkably, there were tickets available at most price ranges on the night. The first scene sees Queen Rodelinda and her young son locked up in their magnificent palace bedroom. Next, released from her chains, the entire stage rolls to the left, revealing the palace garden. It contains the family cenotaphs including one for her recently departed and presumed dead husband, Bertarido (played by Andreas Scholl, counter-tenor). The stage rolls on even further and we see a full sized stables, resident horse included. After a scene back in the garden, we find ourselves in the most magnificent library with six segmented galleries, mezzanine, skylights and panelled and serried shelves. A spiral staircase rises on the right with desk and chairs on the left. Yet another scene takes us to the bowels of the palace, secret corridor and all. It is here where the least likely part of this unlikely plot takes place as the imprisoned king accidentally stabs his friend with a weapon provided by his allies. Despite the injuries, both flee using the secret entrance.

I was surprised that Renée Fleming was paired with mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe who has a magnificent, velvet and very large voice. The opera does not contain duets or concerted singing in which such talents can combine such as Sutherland and Horne used to. Yet both women did shine individually, with a final magnificent tour de force 'resolution' aria by Fleming including a scale up to a stratospheric height. Sadly several of the patrons sitting near me had gone home by then.

I am never a fan of males singing in the soprano register (unless it is David Daniels) but I know I am in the minority. Scholl was extremely well received while the other men also sang creditably, especially John Relyea. The orchestra was in fine form under Maestro Summers who played harpsichord while at the podium. At times he seemed to have his left hand still on the keyboard(s) while raising the baton with his right to direct the orchestra.

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alt="Seated Female c.6000BC Mesopotamia or Syria" />
Seated Female c.6000BC
Mesopotamia or Syria

The story is as unlikely as any opera plot. Bernheimer in his review apparently called usurper Grimoaldo the "nemesis on the premises". I don't know why the program gives the title "Regina de' Longobardi" for Milan's queen. Also, I have never seen so much surgery on stage! It was like a trauma ward. There was a bound hand wound and an apparent laparotomy. At least in Forza the battlefield surgery happens off-stage.

Like Partenope, the opera may seem long and difficult to some. I would not mind if it remained a museum piece, resurrected occasionally by specialist institutions. However, 'rescue' for such a work is at hand by using a clever production along with exemplary singing as in this case. Handel experts may disagree, but to my ear, the opera lacks an immortal show-stopper. Rinado has 'Lascia, io piango', Alcina: 'Tornami a vagghagia' (Alcina); Semele with three such (Oh sleep; Iris hence; Where e're); Caesar has its arias and violin exhibition; Xerxes its 'Largo'. That said, Rodelinda has a plethora of delightful and varied music from all singers and orchestra and is more than a mere museum piece. There are many repeated refrains which could be cut back, making the long evening slightly shorter. I only recall one real duet in the whole piece, but it is worth the wait.

Curtain calls saw the crowds go wild - and honour was satisfied in every respect - but I will not be back in a hurry. While it is a privilege to see an old work done so well - like the Mesopotamian wing at the Metropolitan Museum - essential historically - but I don't want to revisit all that often.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

01 May, 2006

Met Rigoletto. Gavanelli trumphs. Water-sphere man a side show - only in New York!

Metropolitan Opera Company, Broadway and 64th St, New York City

1st May 2006

RigolettoPaolo Gavanelli
GildaNorah Amsellem
DukeRoberto Aronica
MaddalenaNancy Fabiola Herrera
GiovannaKathryn Day
SparafucileRobert Lloyd
MonteroneJames Courtney

ConductorAsher Fisch
ProdOtto Schenk
Set and costumesZack Brown
LightingGil Weschler
Stage DirectorSharon Thomas

Dear Colleagues,

This was a welcome surprise in the middle of a month of opera in New York. I had not heard Aronica or Gavanelli before but they were both magnificent artists with special qualities to savour. Ms Amsellem was also interesting, possessed of a strong, highly placed, pure soprano voice. She took the penultimate E flat in 'Si, vendetta' but avoided the high options at the end of the quartet and storm scene. 'Caro nome' was sung tastefully, ending with a long, accurate trill.

In several places, notably the first act 'La maledizione' and the end of the tempest scene, the orchestra was too loud for the singers to be heard. Mr Aronica omitted his (optional) high note in the second act cabaletta as he is 'called to his love' (like most other tenors). "Quest'e quella" was excellent with a finely schooled chorus for the opening party scene.

"Cortigiani, vil razza" was a tour-de-force by Mr Gavanelli. The quality of his voice has a rich velvet reminiscent of Warren and a forte/piano approaching that of Milnes. The voice is very large but he uses the full range tastefully unlike many other on-off singers.

Fisch took the orchestra at nice paces with the above proviso on volume. He may forget he is conducting one of the largest opera orchestras in a hall with excellent acoustics.

The production is another Otto Schenk collaboration - beautiful and 'realistic', transporting one to an imagined past time in Mantua. Not a detail is spared . from bare winter vine strands on the roof balustrade to wild grass growing in the floor tile cracks away from the pallazzo. The last act, set in the outskirts is particularly clever, incorporating the river bank, wharf and hostellery. Even at the Met it seems impossible to avoid an audience gasping with recognition with 'La donna e mobile' . which was masterfully sung by Mr Aronica with a marvellous finale scene in-the-sack. His finale exclamation was little less than magnificent, earning a deserved ovation from the demanding Met audience.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

David Blaine
David Blaine

(Added side-show was David Blaine in his sphere of water next to the Lincoln Centre fountain - WEIRD!!).

21 April, 2006

Lots lacking in last night's Lohengrin. But much great opera, too. Heppner, Mattila, Fink, DeVol.

Met, Lincoln Center

20 April 2006

Dear Colleagues,

The 3 long acts of Lohengrin at the Met gave us "the best of times and the worst of times". Karita Mattila, who we had the privilege of meeting briefly after the performance, was magnificent as Elsa. Her range is wide, voice sizeable and she is accurate and musical to a fault. But the production and some vocal problems made it hard to "enjoy" this Lohengrin. I recall seeing it about 6 years ago and it was an endurance then as well.

This revival still has all its elements in place, even though some changes may have been made. Gilbert and Sullivan did it for ONE single aria ('You hold yourself like this; you hold yourself like that ...' from Patience) but these singers had to "do it" for 5 hours! For every moment on stage, every performer from King to chorister had to appear stiff and stylised 'like a Japanese marionette' (Mikado). White faces of the principals and blackened faces of the chorus seemed to have no particular meaning. Hand movements were meticulously choreographed throughout. At one point in a darkened stage, all principals had ONE hand individually illuminated to no particular effect . which would have been invisible from much of the 4000 seat hall. Also, all male leads had similar facial hair and dark costumes which is impractical for such a stage work.

The opening becomes a 'Trial by Jury' scene with King Henry as judge, Elsa the accused and Telramund as plaintiff while Lohengrin (as yet unnamed and unnamable) is chief witness for the accused. The mystery witness wins the hand in marriage of Elsa ... on condition of keeping his anonymity. Could a story be more Gilbertian?

Stephen West was ill, so we heard Andrew Greenan as King Henry. But the replacement was obviously also indisposed as his voice disappeared not long after his strong opening. His low notes were inaudible and his mid range seemed to be obscured by phlegm and were garbled or gargled. He was clearly uncomfortable, as was the audience. So where was Rene Pape when we needed him? Answer: in the audience! He is scheduled to take over the part on Monday.

Mr Heppner sang strongly and acted well in the first two acts. However, when he needs to shine in Act III things were not comfortable for him, either. He seemed to be curtailing some notes, singing a few 'glottals' and indeed just about 'cracked' on one high note in his aria. As a consummate professional, he knows how to recover and control things, but this inevitably means losing some of the excitement of the piece and losing some confidence with the audience. I do not know why his final song to the swan is sung facing away from the audience. It is just another crazy decision in a crazy production.

Many of the tableaux were very beautiful, using a bright, clear background, sometimes sky blue but often multicoloured, there were silhouettes, shadows and large fluorescent boxes in the foreground but otherwise bare stage settings. The overall impression of the production was that the characters were not human, the emotion was all artificial and the story needed no telling. This is contrary to what Wagner wanted in his usually detailed stage directions and is certainly not want I want to see in the theatre. While all opera plots have ludicrous twists, the point is that these 'twists' lead to many different circumstances where great emotion can come out using singing and orchestra. And when singing these 'high points' there needs to be great freedom for the singers to put all their energies into singing. Here they were constrained severely by the direction.

I have enjoyed Lohengrin elsewhere and had hoped to be won-over by this production. But it was not to be . even from the best orchestra seats. Remarkably, there was no wedding, which had to be imagined. Telramund actually got up and walked off stage after his murder (second time unlucky) . and his body was invisible in the stretcher carried back on stage. Weird!

A delightful surprise was a wonderful performance from Luana DeVol as Ortrud. She was glorious with full throttle, ringing, high soprano voice and exemplary dramatic sense. Richard Paul Fink, another true Wagnerian, was an impressive and comparably equipped Telramund.

The orchestra under Maestro Phillippe Auguin was magnificent. He sometimes looked to have his eyes closed while conducting music he obviously knows by heart. During the wedding music opening Act III he positively jumped on his podium, enjoying every glorious second. We learned afterwards about some foibles of the Met and its new management. He also tells some spicy behind-the-scenes opera stories from Europe, Australia and beyond (is there anything beyond Australia?). He was in his element last November in the Beijing Ring from Nuremberg.

comments by Andrew Byrne ..

13 April, 2006

Fidelio at the Met. 8 out of 10!

The Metropolitan Opera, New York City

8pm Thursday 13th April 2006

JaquinoGregory Turay
MarzellineJennifer Welch-Babidge
RoccoKristinn Sigmundsson
LeonoreErika Sunnegardh
Don PizarroAlan Held
First PrisonerDimitri Pittas
FlorestanRichard Margison
Don FernandoJames Morris
ConductorPaul Nadler
ProductionJurgen Flimm

Dear Colleagues,

This performance rounded off an entirely successful Fidelio season for the company. Not only a New York Times article about 'waitress to soprano' but also a reported minor vocal mishap on her opening night yielded publicity well beyond the normal. Ms Sunnegardh was second cast to Mattila's prima donna which I did not hear.

This up-dated production by Jurgen Flimm and Robert Israel is clever, stylish and sympathetic to the book. The 'rescue' opera takes place around 1960 in a repressive European political regime. Although the set was a 19th century prison, fluorescent lights, supermarket shopping bags and tailored military uniforms brought us into the middle of the 20th century. In a brilliant contrasting coup, the final scene moved on without a break from darkest dungeon to bright square outside. Against a bright blue horizon, we saw an equestrian statue (under construction) of Don Pizarro in the guise of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Its defacing by the crowd was reminiscent of the toppled Saddam in another failed dictatorship.

The final jubilant chorus was adrenalin-plus. Each principal singer could be clearly heard as well as the orchestra and chorus in their turn. And while the opera has dramatic imperfections, the finale must be one of the most joyous pieces of musical writing anywhere in opera. And there is the awkward and dramatically unsatisfactory 'side show' of Marzelline discovering that her betrothed is actually a woman. Joachino is her consolation prize.

Typical of the Met, most performers had long CV's. Conductor Mr Nadler was not typical of the Met as James Levine had injured himself in a theatre fall recently requiring shoulder surgery. Yet there was a feeling that Levine was there in spirit, rubato and all.

'Swedish American' Ms Sunnegardh as the title role was the newcomer, her career debut being in 2004 according to the program. She has a impressive, penetrating, accurate and large voice, especially secure in the high register. Her performance earned a rare standing ovation at the end from a substantial minority of the audience. She seemed overwhelmed by the reception.

Icelander Kristinn Sigmundsson sang Rocco to a perfection. Somewhat reminiscent of Kurt Moll, he has a large frame and matching velvet vocal output.

Richard Margison commenced his act with a pianissimo 'Gott' and sang the rest with power and pathos as required.

The first felon, Dimitri Pittas, sang some charming bars on being released into the sunlight. A clever touch put him into a dog-collar, worsening the impression of the police state imprisoning a cleric.

I doubt that James Morris would get his full fee for the cameo appearance as Don Fernando, yet he sings with suave authority if with a distinct beat at times.

The Met chorus was in finest form, being brilliantly directed such that there was a paucity of movement in the prison scenes yet mirth and frivolity emphasised at the end with corresponding activity, dancing, etcetera.

All in all a triumph for the Met. I'm not sure if that can be said of all their recent shows.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

20 February, 2006

Die Zauberflöte. Sydney Opera House 20th February 2006

Fly the Flute fantastic ... Mozart and Schikaneder would be proud!

Die Zauberflöte. Mozart. Sydney Opera House Monday 20th February 2006.

Tamino - Jaewoo Kim
Papageno - Warwick Fyfe
Queen of the Night - Amelia Farrugia
Pamina - Emma Matthews
Sarastro - Stephen Richardson
Three ladies - Sarah Crane, Catherine Carby, Sally-Anne Russell
Monostotos - Kanen Breen, Papagena - Taryn Fiebig
Speaker - Jud Arthur, Priest - Graeme Macfarlane
Cond. R. Hickox.
Director David Freeman
Design Dan Potra
Choreography Debra Batton

Dear Colleagues,
The Sydney summer season of opera has reached its half-way point with a spectacular new production of Magic Flute by David Freeman and Dan Potra. Julie Taymor of Lion King fame brought new Magic to the Flute in New York last year using giant puppets and a circus approach. Freeman and Potra bring their own joint genius to this colourful show in which fire and water really ARE fire and water. And priests wear saffron and crimson, with dark sets as panels of pietra dura which are variously ‘back’, edge or front-lit. The three temple doors lift out of the floor, so no scene change is needed. The busy, fenestrated set opens and closes to produce small intimate scenes in ‘cupboards’ or vestibules to an open stage when space is needed.
It would take reams to describe all the splendid stage craft, scene by scene so I will just stick to the most memorable. The first act opens onto a vine strewn jungle. Our retinue of actors are climbing ropes and ladders, some initially hidden in the undergrowth. We are accompanied throughout the opera by quadruped furry friends including lions (or were they baboons, the Egyptian symbols of the dawn and light?).

Our dragon is shown as three huge moving sections: ‘vicious visage’ head suspended, massive single claw and writhing serpent body. Our eastern prince was tall, imposing Korean Jaewoo Kim, dressed in finest oriental silk. He sang and acted exceptionally well. His fellow traveller on the trials to happiness was played equally well by Warwick Fyfe. With a strong voice and good comic sense, he arrived on stage looking like a younger Les Patterson (rhinophyma nose added), with his own personal barbecue and beer cans. While readers may wonder, most of this Oz-ock take-off was tasteful … and in appropriate contrast to the regal nature of his company. Even Australian accents in the (English) dialogue did not seem out of place between the arias, sung in German. Australian gags brought much mirth and were worthy of ‘Barry McKenzie’.

One of the ‘vestibule’ scenes saw our two heroes about to embark on their trials, as if seated in twin electric chairs. Next, the entire chamber started revolving through 90, then 180 degrees, the articulated chairs remaining upright but stopping at the ceiling rather than the floor. Later the same room served Papageno climbing for dear life as it spun again unexpectedly. It also became a more intimate setting for his ‘reviving’ scene when he receives a tin of beer rather than the traditional glass of wine.

Another splendid ’effect’ occurred when the Regency couple had weathered the water trials and appeared suspended behind a wall of flowing water. The spray curtailed, they walked through to a sort of Olympic medal ceremony. As if in need of a final pièce de resistance, but to no more dramatic effect, the common couple were ‘walled’ by vertical jets of water at the end of their duetto.

Our nocturnal Queen arrived from the sky, suspended on a bright yellow translucent quarter-moon. Ms Farrugia managed the impossible tessitura with slightly pinched yet still accurate highest notes and a regal presence. Oddly, Tamino spent the aria looking up the Queen’s white stranded dress which extended down to the stage several metres below. Her second act aria was even more impressive, now back on the ground, as she tries to sway her daughter Pamina against the wicked Lodge men.

Emma Matthews was excellent as Pamina both vocally and dramatically. Stephen Richardson made a fine Sarastro and it is hard to believe that he gave us such a good Falstaffo so recently. He had all the low notes as well as the authority to carry off this very different role.
At the animated curtain calls there appeared no sign of Dan Potra, David Freeman or Debra Batton who created this extraordinary production for us. They deserve a major accolade, along with the dancers, jugglers, flame throwers, acrobats and silent muse stage assistants. The orchestra sounded in control throughout although the first notes were so staccato that they sounded to be unison from my seat in the circle. Mr Hickox beat a strict pace while carefully co-ordinating the whistles, pipes, bells and other extras required in this unique masterwork.
I imagine the season will sell out very rapidly since this is full Magilla theatre of Olympic standards. It makes a night at Butterfly seem rather staid!

Other recent successes from the opera company have been Falstaff, Butterfly and Elisir d’Amore. Rake’s Progress is next.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..
Dr Andrew Byrne MB BS (Syd) FAChAM (RACP)