Michael Halliwell

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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Messe De Minuit (Pinchgut Opera) 

Michael Halliwell
Monday, 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 

Michael Halliwell
Friday, 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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2019 Arts Highlights of the Year

Robyn Archer et al.
Thursday, 24 October 2019

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 

Michael Halliwell
Monday, 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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Oscar and Lucinda (Sydney Chamber Opera) ★★★★☆

Michael Halliwell
Monday, 29 July 2019

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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Whiteley (Opera Australia) ★★★★

Michael Halliwell
Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Unlike the many films about the lives of artists, operas in which visual artists feature are few, though two of the most popular in the repertoire, Puccini’s Tosca and La Bohème, both have painters as central characters. The lives of artists are often messy affairs and resist convenient shaping into narrative arcs, with the actual creative process difficult to dramatise effectively ...

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The Return of Ulysses (Pinchgut Opera) ★★★★

Michael Halliwell
Friday, 14 June 2019

Some of the fascinating, indeed, frustrating aspects of the operas of Claudio Monteverdi include the lack of certainty in regard to both the authenticity of the various musical sources that have survived, and to exactly how these operas were performed, factors that influence performance choices made today ...

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Salome (Opera Australia) ★★★★

Michael Halliwell
Thursday, 07 March 2019

Alex Ross, at the start of his acclaimed survey of twentieth-century music, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the twentieth century, describes in vivid detail the luminaries gathered for one of the first performances of Richard Strauss’s Salome in Graz on 16 May 1906, five months after the Dresden première ...

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Wozzeck (Opera Australia) ★★★★

Michael Halliwell
Tuesday, 29 January 2019

It is often observed that we live in an age of ‘directors’ opera’, where the name of the director precedes the name of the opera, never mind the composer. Yet there remain relatively few directors who have become indelibly associated with a particular visual style. South African William Kentridge is one ...

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