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31 March, 2014

Madama Butterfly from a pontoon on Sydney Harbour in autumn.

Opera in the open air.  Madama Butterfly at Mrs Macquaries Chair. Friday 21st March (equinox). "Handa Opera"
Cio-cio-san - Hiromi Omura
Suzuki - Anna Yun
Pinkerton - Georgy Vasiliev
Sharpless - Michael Honeyman
Goro - Graeme Macfarlane
Bonze - Gennadi Dubinsky
c. B. Castles-Onion
d. Alex Olle (La Fura dels Baus)
Sets Alfons Flores
Costumes Lluc Castells
For the third year in a row the opera company has pulled off a seemingly impossible coup by holding back the weather (at least for opening night) and presenting a classy performance of a classic opera to a large and appreciative audience under the stars and in full view of Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. 
Personally I have problems with using public gardens and foreshores for such elitist events (A reserve tickets were $300 each).  I also have problems with hearing trained opera singers using microphones in such open-air shows.  But like other things in life I have suppressed these guilty and critical feelings and got with the swing.  In case of rain I am lucky enough to live within walking distance.  And I sat in seats which cost about $100 and extremely good value. 
Like Carmen and La Traviata before it, I enjoyed almost every aspect of the night, notably the opera itself.  The singing was superb and production creditable and clever.  Again, aspects grated on me - like Astroturf which I have always disliked … choosing singers based on their racial originals also goes against the grain (a list of actors had mostly Asian names while the sopranos playing Cio-cio-san were Japanese and Korean).  Notwithstanding this, the vocals were of a very high standard from all main and subsidiary characters. I always wait for the two tenor high points, Dovunque al mondo and Addio, fiorito asil and was not disappointed.  The soprano did everything except the optional D flat finishing her first act entrance. 
The production takes place on an enormous hillock of fake lawn surmounted by a palisade of fake bamboo.  Behind this an enormous fake full moon bobbed up and down hooked from a real but temporary crane gantry.  There was some beauty to it all and behind the thatch of bamboo Sydney’s skyline was the final back-drop cyclorama.  The orchestra was housed beneath the hillock, unseen until the curtain calls. 
Instead of a house, the opening characters are examining the unfolded scale plans of a proposed house.  This made the end of act one difficult as the matrimonial couple walk off into the blissful yonder, and a bedroom which is under construction or worse, not yet built at all.  But rather than saving on costs, act two takes place in a wholly new set with both a demountable Japanese house plus an elevated outhouse.  The purpose of the latter was not clear to this ignorant audience member, but there were goings on apace.  If a servant quarters it would vie for the world’s best placed servant quarters! 
There was a large blow-up sphere mid-harbour to the north which glowed at varying intensities.  It looked rather odd, remaining as it did on the horizon and one might assume it represented a setting sun.  Other special effects included a 30 second burst of wedding fireworks from half a dozen smaller unseen pontoons out in Farm Cove, the bay between us and the Opera House.
The bonze arrived by motor launch while most other stage entrances and exits were by common Sydney livery taxis which drove up on the path in front - naf in my book and about as Japanese as the pizza served in the dining venues.   The blanket advertising implied that saki and sushi would be staples but I could not find them. 
An extraordinary event not to be missed if you are into that sort of thing - and you have the spare cash to spend on it.  But opera it ain't. 
Notes by Andrew Byrne ..
Our butterfly collection (off topic but fun):

23 March, 2014

Eugene Onegin at the Sydney Opera House

Wednesday 20th March 2014 Sydney Opera House.
Eugene Onegin - [Yevegeny Onyegin] - Tchaikovsky
Tatyana - Nicole Car
Onegin - Dalibor Jenis
Olga - Sian Pendry
Madame Larina - Domenica Matthews
Lensky - James Egglestone
M. Triquet - Sam Roberts-Smith
Prince Gremin - Konstantin Gorny
c. Guillaume Tourniaire,
This opera is a must-see … yet I attended one of the last performances.  A tasteful, clever production is peopled by serious singers in a gutsy and profound opera with a maudlin start, partying middle and an ending which is unhappy for three of its main players.  And this is what opera is made of or it should be. 
It was not initially clear who the real star was, so balanced were the singers.  However, on reading Mr Jeniss biography it is likely that he was the one raising the standard he is slated for Nabucco in Berlin, Figaro in Paris, Escamillo and Renato in Verona, Yeletsky in Bratislava (his home town), Don Giovanni, Roderigo, Macbeth, Di Luna and more besides in just one year.  Such a star in the title role brings out the best in everyone else and should sell seats (and subscriptions for next year).  The voices were large, accurate and exciting with the exception of Monsieur Triquet (who is meant to be delicate and effete). 
In the title role Slovakian baritone Mr Jenis sings solidly and his acting is credible, made all the more challenging with a double shadowing much of his stage action.  His party trick is the sustained high note which he uses with great aplomb, but not to excess.  If you have got it, why not flaunt it?  Goose bumps all round, yet the audience gave no rapturous ovations during the performance, saving appreciation to the end.  
As Lensky Mr Egglestone coloured his long and difficult aria elegantly, starting out almost inaudibly piano (Kuda kuda) yet rising to a major fortissimo, knowing his risk of being dead in minutes in the duel.  And we saw his body on stage for the remainder of the opera, one rather odd aspect of an otherwise sympathetic and tasteful staging.  At least it avoided the indignity of dragging a corpse off stage. 
Ms Car sang superbly, possessed of a large and pleasing voice.  Tatyanas long letter scene (Onegin also has a letter scene at the end of the opera) kept the tension between her modesty and impetuousness.  Simultaneously the written word was cleverly projected onto billowing curtains while Tatyana and her double vied for the pen and paper (one might quibble at the quill and absent ink well - maybe it was a pencil). 
Russian bass Konstantin Gorny sang Gremins haunting aria with dignity and seismic style.  It is rare to hear a true bass and it is always a pleasure when it is as schooled as this.  That he is young and handsome is no odder than mature sopranos playing youthful roles.  
The action unfolded within three large openings in a panelled palace interior.  Large bi-fold doors or curtains at times revealed autumn woods, garden scene, dancing or a snow storm. 
Apart from myself, I noted at least two other gents in the audience wearing a strawberry shirt and light blue jacket.  Perhaps the gents style centre of Sydney has returned to Bennelong Point! 
A nice touch, after mention of Samuel Richardson novels by the sisters, was an ever-present pile of books on stage.  A screwed up letter was also left on stage for several scenes, finally accompanied by its reply, much too delayed to be meaningful. 
The productions unique moment for me was in the duel when Onegins double ran to try to stop the bullets which nevertheless hit their mark as Lensky dropped to the ground. 
The chorus was first class, only one member remaining from the old days, Dr Robert Mitchell, whose corporate memory must be invaluable to this company.  Supporting cast members were all also excellent. 
The Sydney Onegin was a co-production with London and Turin directed by Kasper Holten with sets by Mia Stensgaard with costumes by Katrina Lindsay.
There is the well know magnificent waltz for the ball scene
and the piece for Gremins reception performed presto with clarity and equipoise from a consummate orchestra with competent maestro at the helm. 
In my side circle seat I was part of a near capacity house.  Yet as usual there were about 50 restricted view seats unoccupied.  These should have been given to music students, each of whom would have had a unique experience in the theatre to savour for the rest of their lives.  Empty seats are a curse on the management of a theatrical company (W. Shakespeare, Globe Theatre board minutes, London, 1596 TIC). 
Notes by Andrew Byrne ..