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08 September, 2013

Sumptuous Traviata sizzles at season’s end.

La Traviata Thursday 22nd August 2013 Sydney Opera House. 

Dear Colleagues,

My last opera for the Sydney winter season was La Traviata.  (I am NOT going to South Pacific although I am sure it will be excellent).  A knowledgeable friend had contended that Emma Matthews had a small voice so I made a point of sitting towards the rear of the theatre (back seats of Loge Y - and they only cost $44 each).  Ms Matthews’ voice filled the hall perfectly well and her delivery was faultless.  She injected sex appeal [sic], impishness, vulnerability and despondency as required by the drama.  She also used a phenomenally difficult coloratura at the end of Act I and lasted the distance to a tragic demise in Act III. 

By contrast the tenor playing Alfredo was barely adequate.  Martin Buckingham was promoted from the opera chorus and despite a valiant effort was clearly in difficulties from the start.  I recall Vinson Cole calling this part a 'killer role'.  If only Mr Buckingham had not attempted two unwritten high notes he may have got away with it.  He cracked on an optional high note in the off-stage section at the end of Act I.  Then in Act II he then sang a fine 'De miei bollenti spiriti' but attempted the optional high note at the end of the cabaletta which was strangulated, curtailed and ugly. 

I was a little surprised that the company chose Shane Lowrencev as Baron Duphol who plays the close guardian of Violetta in the party scene.  Having been cast in major principal roles he was now reduced to this comprimario part, which he sings perfectly well.  However, it was hard to overlook the singular difference in height between the diminutive soprano and Mr Lowrencev who must measure near 2 metres.

Along with the soprano and marvellous production by Elijah Moshinsky, another strength of the evening was the velvet baritone singing of Jose Carbo as father Germont.  He looked and sounded every bit the part and it is surprising that we don’t hear him more often in our opera seasons.  He should just be signed up on a serious retainer but the company just does not do that any more. 

Patrick Lange conducted a professional orchestra with traditional tempi and not drawing attention unnecessarily to either himself or his band.  The opera chorus also sang and acted well in the cramped conditions of the Sydney opera stage. 

Another good night at the opera.  We are privileged indeed to have an opera company at all in far off Australia although it is depressing to think that the seasons are now so depleted from the ‘golden years’ of the 1980s, 90s and so on.  And not much changes with the new season announcement, sad to say.  To learn that Carmen is featured would make many subscribers groan so often have we seen this opera.  Some of the main drawcards are not actually opera performances at all.  There is a Sunday evening concert by German tenor Jonas Kaufman (top seats are $350).  Yet we will be denied Mr Kaufman’s great attribute, being his intense stage presence and acting in an opera.  Even at his absolute prime Luciano Pavarotti sang three performances (of La Boheme) with our opera company.  Likewise dozens of the world’s top singers.  Other "side-shows" for 2014 include ‘Opera on the Beach’, ‘Opera on the Harbour’ and ‘The King and I’.  So the company moves further and further away from the Mission Statement which was on their web site when Mr Terracini became the head honcho. 

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..


04 September, 2013

Don Pasquale comes to Sydney Opera House.

Don Pasquale. Sydney Opera House Wed 7th August 2013. 

Don Pasquale - Conal Coad
Dr Malatesta - Samuel Dundas
Ernesto - Ji-Min Park
Norina - Rachelle Durkin
c. Guillaume Tourniaire p. Roger Hodgman

Dear Colleagues,

This Don Pasquale opened with a sepia-like scrim projection with a vintage movie promotion.  While perhaps of some meaning to those ‘in the know’, this seemed of little bearing to the chocolate-box production we were about to enjoy. 

The stage was a charming house and street exterior which rotated to an equally charming if dated domestic interior.  This was transformed to a super-contemporary setting after the intervention of the ‘modern’ young wife in the second act, part of the plot to drive the rich old philanderer mad and make him renounce his decision to re-marry, thereby disinheriting his nephew Ernesto. 

The work’s most famous tune, first played on the ‘cello in the overture, should be a gift to the tenor.  Com’e gentil was a delight with Korean tenor Ji-Min Park putting sensitivity before panache in the aria, producing a non-falsetto and legato ending.  He was the real star of the night in my book. 

Likewise, Norina’s aria is a spin for the coloratura … and Ms Durkin is up to it.  Her voice is capable and well projected, yet it lacks the innate beauty of the finest of the genre.  She was exemplary as one of the ugly sisters in the Met’s Cenerentola in New York. 

Like the changed domestic d├ęcor in Act II, so we also see the transformation of Mr Coad from house clothing to formal attire for the wedding then the inevitable hangover in which he is bestraggled again.  Mr Coad has an impressive voice and comic presence - with a facility to fit fiddly syllables into his patter, no more than in the duet with baritone Cheti, cheti mantinente. 

Mr Dundas as Dr Malatesta (Italian for ‘headache’) sings and acts with style and flair as the scheming, unethical doctor on house call.  Yet his command of proceedings is not as unanswerable as it might be. 

Don Pasquale contains many other memorable melodies, taxing and beautiful arias, choruses and a brilliant overture, to boot.  We have waited far too long for this classic comedy of the Bel Canto genre.  Yet we have the Elixir of Love next season, a reflection of the narrow repertoire the company now follows. 

Despite my misgivings about the company’s longevity this was altogether a most enjoyable night at the opera - head spinning with tunes and good spirits at the end of the night and, unlike the other season offerings, nary a body on stage! 

The opera company has now proven that it can put on consistently good quality opera having done Forza del Destino, Tosca, La Traviata and Don Pasquale in the first months of the winter season.  But at the risk of repeating myself, once upon a time a winter season had much more than this.  In September the opera company becomes a light musical theatre company for two months during which mostly opera was traditionally performed.  This was made necessary due to an exodus of subscribers responding to years of poor quality opera and in an effort to keep the company afloat financially.  They did the wonderful musical South Pacific two years running in over 100 performances, demonstrating my point about a true grand opera company which served the public and opera communities for so long. 

Some of my readers have asked about Carmen on the pontoon on Sydney Harbour.  Again, despite misgivings, I attended this event for the second year running and had a simply marvellous time taking in the crowds, evening air, stars, city views and lastly, the music, vocals and drama.  It is more like a fun fair than the opera house.  I did not stay for the whole opera so will not give a critique of the performance, which seemed to be of a high quality for what I saw and heard.  Furthermore, I did not pay the big bucks for the extremely expensive centre seats.  Like the old dry cleaning maxim ‘all care but no responsibility’. 

Handa Opera on the Harbour has now had two years of favourable weather (only one night rescheduled if my information is correct).  Furthermore, the temperature and wind levels were favourable as if some genie were looking after the event.  It is only a matter of time before there is a season disaster due to bad weather to which Sydney can be prone.  While it was a lovely distraction, in the face of rain, high winds or cold, one may well question why not use the charming little opera house nearby.  And why are we hearing amplified opera singers whose arduous lifetime training is to sing without microphones?  There was certainly no amplification when opera started in the Arena di Verona in 1913. 

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

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