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20 August, 2007

Sydney Trittico: one soprano for three operas! Also, new season announced.

Sydney Opera House

Il Trittico - Giacomo Puccini - Friday 17/8/07

Also: New Sydney season announced for 2008.

Dear Colleagues,

We were treated to a glorious night of full-blooded opera with the unique feat of Cheryl Barker singing all three soprano roles, disparate as they are. Elizabeth Campbell also featured in each opera: as Frugola, The Abbess and Aunt Zita.

These old Australian Opera productions are ‘realistic’ and lavish, worthy of the stature of the pieces. Despite the ravages of over 30 years and many reprises in various forms in several cities, the sets and costumes looked fresh, especially Schicchi. It would be hard to better them, just as it would be unwise to tamper troppo with Puccini’s detailed instructions.

Dennis O’Neill sang Luigi with gusto and flare. The ‘nostalgia’ duet with Barker was a vocal torrent. Jonathan Summers’ voice seems to be back in fine form and he tore into the role of Michele, reaching rare baritone heights while also plumbing dramatic depths with his ‘Perche non m’ami piu?’.

Suor Angelica saw Ms Barker pouring vocal energies wholesale into this pathetic role. ‘Senza mama’ seems like the easy part! The Principessa role was called ‘the most evil person in all opera’ in a recent ‘Met’ introduction (and their new productions were also realistic, if massive). Milijana Nikolic was devastating as the Sydney Principessa just as Stephanie Blythe had done in New York earlier this year. The emotive ending and marvelous music make us forget that this is really just another common but sorry story of reactionary depression and suicide, largely precipitated by an unyielding church and social mores.

Schicchi’s Florentine death-bed comedy is one of the great gems of the operatic stage - and the composer’s only foray into the lighter genre. Like Moliere, he parodies doctors and lawyers while weaving farcical family foibles into a love match with a happy ending. Again, Cheryl Barker altered her persona and voice to create a perfect young lover dressed in apricot. As her Rinuccio Henry Choo was dressed up to kill, sounding far more comfortable in this role than he had with the recent Rossini. His ‘Firenze e un arbor fiorito’ was splendid, just as Barker’s pot-boiler ‘O mio babino caro’ was well received.

Jonathan Summers ended the night playing the Divine Dante with some (spoken) words of wisdom and absolution. This opera may be the closest that true grand opera comes to Broadway.

There are ten performances in the next 5 weeks and if Sydney-siders (and George Bush who is coming for the APEC meeting) are sensible, these will all be full!

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

The new season’s brochure was released this week. We have Otello and Masked Ball with Mr O’Neill. Boheme’s and Carmen’s until they are coming out of your ears. Arabella and Orlando I do not particular care to hear, but I know many others do. Cinderella, Pearlfishers and Lucia are always worth another airing to my limited taste, as long as they have decent singers. Three unlikely works take a great deal of scarce vocal resources: Makropoulos Secret, Billy Budd and Pilgrim’s Progress (6, 7 and 1 performances). And the former two are being done with stellar casts and in the same month, October 2008. One gets the impression that the English and modern European repertoire are receiving priority, despite being connoisseur’s pieces and unpopular with the average opera-goer. The Opera Australia management operates in mysterious ways. They do not appear to be poll driven, and I am not sure if that is good or bad. There certainly seems to be little communication with their public. They might consider addressing the major problems of the Opera House toilets and transport which are rather fundamental to the ‘opera experience’ we keep hearing about! It is also hard to believe tactless new opera motto which includes the word "amplified".