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22 February, 2009

Joan Sutherland Society concert at St Pauls Burwood.

Lucia di Lammermoor 50th Anniversary Concert. Sunday 15th February 2009 2pm. St Paul’s Church, Burwood.

Dear Reader,

Doug Cremer and the Joan Sutherland Society have done themselves proud with an afternoon of great singing at St Paul's Church in the presence of some divas of the past and the present.

Lauris Elms, Morag Beaton, Malcolm Donnelly and Amanda Thane were in the audience to support the younger singers in an adventurous program. There were 2 Lieder excerpts (Brahms), grand opera (Bizet, Donizetti, Verdi, Wagner) with two Italian canzone (Musica proibita; Cor ingrato) and three items from light operas/musicals (If I were a rich man; Gendames' duet; Anything you can do). The afternoon finished with the rather rude English folk song 'Oliver Cromwell' which ends "If you want any more you can sing it yourself!"

The afternoon was compered by tenor Glenn Winslade. Sharolyn Kimmorley played the ivories with aplomb as ever. I hope she is never taken for granted. We were reminded that Ms Kimmorley was belatedly honoured in this year’s Australia Day awards for her services to singing and singers. With ease she straddled the different styles, solos, duets and two large concerted pieces, turning pages on her own.

The hit of the afternoon for me was Daniel Sumegi singing Banquo's aria from 'that opera'. It shows off his deep, expressive voice in a more dynamic way than in Mozart. As in Nabucco, he reaches the heights and limits of his fach ... and the genre. Then, to show his versatility he joined in the Lucia sextet, “We run them in” duet (with John Wegner) and finally the "I can do anything" duet (with Domenica Matthews).

Mr Wegner was splendid in ‘If I were a rich man’ from Fiddler on the Roof as well as doing a great rendition of Escamillo's difficult Toreador aria.

Michael Lewis and his wife Nicole Youl sang some fine Brahms to kick off the program, first reading the English translations for our benefit which was most helpful. Lewis then sang the first act baritone aria from Lucia (‘Cruda funesta’) including the fiendishly difficult cabaletta.

Ms Youl sang Dich teure Halle with confidence, strength and that edge Wagnerian sopranos need. Perhaps this is the direction she is headed after the current excellent Santuzzas finished up this weekend.

In the absence of the indisposed Mr Andrew Goodwin, Christopher Hillier, a baritone in the OA chorus, stood in at short notice, singing a very fine 'Bella si come un angelo' from Don Pasquale as well as Musica proibita. Both were class acts indeed for his light and pleasant voice.

Stephen Smith, with his indelible Pacific smile sang 'Una furtiva lagrima', followed in the second half by Cor Ingrato. He also featured prominently in the sextet from Lucia. After a great success as a very energetic Beppe in Pagliacci this season, he is a talent to watch.

Domenica Matthews and Teresa la Rocca did the program's first opera excerpt, Hoffmann's famous 'Barcarolle'. They both also sang in the Lucia sextet ‘Che mi freni’ while Ms la Rocca sang a creditable ‘E strano .. Ah forse lui .. Sempre Libera’ from La Traviata. She tackled the hard options on both, each at her considerable and exciting limits.

This concert was in memory of Deborah Riedel who died recently after a long battle with cancer. The speaker reminded us of her magnificent Norma duet at a previous St Paul’s concert with Fiona Janes as Adalgesa.

We were told to look forward to the next event in which it is hoped Dame Joan and Richard Bonynge may ajudicate the most deserving young singers.

Unsurprisingly there was no (apparent) representative of the opera company present - but that is just what happens in a company bereft of direction. At a recent performance of Cav/Pag I attended there was no accompanist for the Siciliana which Dennis O'Neill bravely sang in its entirety alone, happily ending the long aria on the right note for the massive orchestral segue. Does the company have any standards? The singing was very fine yet the house was not well sold and there is a feeling of inertia rather than enthusiasm. Let's hope there is a renaissance under new management, and soon.

Comments by Andrew Byrne.

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