Michael Halliwell

In the program for the première of Voss in Adelaide in 1986, David Malouf observed:

No libretto can reproduce the novel from which it is drawn. A novel, especially a great one, is itself: unique, irreplaceable. The best a libretto can do is reproduce the experience of the book in a new and radically different form, allowing the form itself to determine what the experience will be.

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La Juive 

by
11 March 2022

To say that Fromental Halévy’s opera La Juive (The Jewess) is a problematic work is a gross understatement. From the time of its successful première at the Paris Opéra in 1835 – it is one of the finest examples of French Grand Opera – it has been surrounded by controversy, periods of neglect, particularly during the 1930s, and even outright banning; its subject matter has been found confronting and frequently highly polarising. Although considered blatantly anti-Semitic by some, it was the finest opera of a successful Jewish composer.

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Otello 

by
21 February 2022

Devotees of Giuseppe Verdi often suggest that the composer’s version of Shakespeare’s Othello is ‘greater’ than the original; a fruitless assertion, but indicative of the esteem in which Verdi’s penultimate opera is held. After Aida (1871), Verdi was enjoying the life of a gentleman farmer. Italian opera of the 1870s and 1880s, however, was facing something of a crisis, threatened by the relentless tide of ‘Wagnerism’, whose theories on opera were embraced by many Italians. Verdi, when asked about his own theory of theatre, drily replied: ‘My theory is that the theatre should be full’.

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Ernani 

Opera Australia
by
04 February 2021

George Bernard Shaw tartly suggested that ‘the chief glory of Victor Hugo as a stage poet was to have provided libretti for Verdi’. Hugo’s fifteen dramas are not well known in the English-speaking world and live on mainly through the many operatic reincarnations of the plays. Most prominent in popular culture, though, is the adaptation of Hugo’s novel Les Misérables, the blockbuster musical. The first successful operatic adaptation of a play was Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia of 1833, which introduced a strong strain of realism into Italian opera. Undoubtedly the most successful of all the Hugo operas is Rigoletto (1851), Verdi’s version of Le roi s’amuse, still one of the most performed operas in the repertoire. Hugo later admitted that the opera was ‘better’ than the play.

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Graz, 16 May 1906. Richard Strauss is conducting his scandalous, recently premièred opera, Salome. The expectant audience includes Giacomo Puccini, Arnold Schoenberg, Gustav and Alma Mahler, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Alban Berg, and, slipping surreptitiously into a cheap seat, possibly a certain Adolf Hitler, having borrowed money from relatives for the trip from Vienna. So begins Alex Ross’s exploration of the kaleidoscopic twentieth-century musical world in The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the twentieth century (2007), his now classic study. Ross is well known as the chief music critic of The New Yorker.

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An evening of Charpentier 

Pinchgut Opera
by
07 December 2020

Hooray, operatic activity in Sydney is back! Well, perhaps not quite, but performances by one of Australia’s most vibrant companies, Pinchgut Opera, occurred over the weekend. Worldwide operatic activity abruptly ceased in March when Covid-19 struck, and has only recently tentatively emerged from this enforced hibernation. Opera Australia is slated to reopen early in 2021, sooner than many other companies, while others such as the Vienna State Opera endured the frustration of resuming performances as the first wave of the pandemic subsided, only to be forced to close their doors as a second wave surged.

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Attila 

Opera Australia
by
13 March 2020

The fearsome figure of Attila the Hun (406–53 CE) has always had a bad press, yet in Verdi’s opera of 1846 he emerges as the most sympathetic and nuanced character of a group of three other rather unlikeable, two-dimensional principals, all of whom plot his final demise. During the course of the opera, Attila emerges as a somewhat naïve, trusting character, and shows great respect for his avowed enemy, the Roman general Ezio. Yet it does not end happily for Attila, ultimately done in by the three of them; almost certainly not a historically accurate depiction.

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To celebrate the year’s memorable plays, films, television, music, operas, dance, and exhibitions, we invited a number of arts professionals and critics to nominate their favourites. 

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The Ghost Sonata 

Opera Australia
by
16 September 2019

A few years before he wrote his play The Ghost Sonata (1907), August Strindberg bitterly observed: ‘Life is so horribly ugly, we human beings so abysmally evil, that if a writer were to depict all that he had seen and heard no one could bear to read it ... Breeding and education seem only to mask the beast in us, and virtue is a disguise ...

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Two new Australian operas within the space of a fortnight is by any measure unusual. They are also operas at both ends of the spectrum in terms of scale. Elena Katz-Chernin’s Whiteley utilised the full resources of the major opera company, Opera Australia, including a large chorus, while Elliot Gyger’s Oscar and Lucinda ...

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