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22 March, 2008

Un Ballo in Maschera, Sydney Opera House, Wed 19th March 2008

Un Ballo in Maschera, Sydney Opera House, Wed 19th March 2008

Conductor: Andrea Licata; Director: John Cox.

King - Dennis O’Neill
Anckestroem - Michael Lewis
Oscar - Loren Gore
Ulrica - Bernadette Cullen
Amelia - Nicole Youl
Count Horn - Richard Alexander
Count Ribbing - Richard Anderson

Dear Colleagues,

Another mid-season update on this wonderful opera production. We had a new Oscar with Loren Gore who is also singing Fiakamilli in Arabella at the moment. The pants role of Oscar shows off her considerable talents to better effect as she takes the scene both dramatically and vocally on three occasions in Masked Ball. Fiakamilli is a small but important role involving largely high coloratura ‘punctuation’ in a noisy chorus. It may be a big song but not a ‘big sing’. Oscar is a big sing, involving arias, chorus work and recitative. Ms Gore has a large voice with an even production up to a ringing top. I hope we hear much more of her.

Nicole Youl was in fine voice as was Michael Lewis. Dennis O’Neill’s command of the role of Gustavus is supreme. A retired baritone I know called the performance a veritable singing lesson. It is also hard to imagine a better witch than Bernadette Cullen who was in fine form, fair raising the roof with her prophesies and soothsaying.

Richard Alexander and Richard Anderson are the two basso conspirators who start and finish the action of this grizzly opera. They ceremoniously light and extinguish the old footlights as in another era. Along with the chorus they are unfailingly professional both vocally and dramatically. Andrea Licata and his orchestra received yet another rapturous ovation.

The production has much going for it and is an excellent foil for this near-perfect opera. The king’s writing desk is covered with a large Persian rug which looks rather odd in the regal apartments. The conspirators’ names are drawn out of a drawer, not an urn as stated in the libretto. The king wears a sailor’s suit to the fortune teller, not the attire of a fisherman as called for by the score. But these are small details in an otherwise charming and original production.

comments by Andrew Byrne ..

Dr Andrew Byrne MB BS (Syd) FAChAM (RACP)
Dependency Medicine,
75 Redfern Street, Redfern,
New South Wales, 2016, Australia
Email -
Tel (61 - 2) 9319 5524 Fax 9318 0631
Opera blog:

13 March, 2008

Arabella at Sydney Opera House

ArabellaCheryl Barker
MandrykaPeter Coleman-Wright
ZdenkaEmma Matthews
MatteoRichard Roberts
Herr WaldnerConal Coad
Frau WaldnerMilijana Nikolic
Fortune tellerJacqueline Dark
Fiakamilli (cabaret artist)Lorina Gore
DirectorJohn Cox
ConductorRichard Hickox

Sydney Opera House

Friday 7th March 2008

Dear Readers,

Not many operas call for two high-octane sopranos. Arabella needs three. Sadly, this is not an opera I am able to engage with either musically or dramatically. The casting is strong (the Met used Te Kanawa AND Battle in 1983!). Apart from American tenor Richard Roberts, they were all Australasian. And each performed to a high standard in a production which was sympathetic if sparse in sets and props. Rather than a full room, the designer cleverly used a grand raised stand-alone entrance door, half a window, drapes and metre of ornate cornice to indicate location (and save money). Likewise, a ballroom was indicated by a magnificent centre-piece, circular settee, a few peripheral tables around a revolving stage set with black surrounds. A rather ordinary angled mezzanine staircase in Act III hotel lobby twisted slightly at the end to become a double ‘stairway to heaven’ for the lovers: a splendid coup-de-theatre for the finale.

I was moved by the act I duet with Barker and Matthews, however I find most of the music unapproachable. The silly story (it IS opera) revolves around small minded, self-centred sexist motives which contrast markedly with the progress which has been made in women’s liberation in the decades since the opera was written. It was all the more poignant on the eve of International Women’s Day.

With the company’s talents on display in this ‘connoisseur’s opera’, the audience showed their appreciation in a frenzy of clapping and bravos. Finally, for the conductor’s curtain call, there was stomping like an earthquake. The season of 5 performances is apparently booked out (try Melbourne next month). I heard that Richard Hickox was ill with a virus for the second performance on the 11th with Lionel Friend on the podium receiving a more reserved ovation to another full house.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..