Arts – Opera

La Clemenza di Tito 

National Opera
by
14 April 2021

For nearly two centuries considered the runt of Mozart’s operatic litter, La Clemenza di Tito has taken on new life this millennium. Written in the formalistic, to nineteenth-century ears even archaic, style of opera seria, this hastily composed two-act work of Mozart’s final year (first performed in Prague on 6 September 1791) is now received as fresh, even vital, overturning an inherited view of it as ‘a conception not fully realized’ (Julian Rushton). Its intensely political message is so pertinent to our own immoral times. Why, there is even a storming of the (Roman) Capitol towards the end of Act I, from which the instigators walk free.

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Monteverdi's Vespers 

Pinchgut Opera
by
26 March 2021

In a Reith lecture she delivered in 2017, Hilary Mantel noted that we ‘don’t reproduce the past, we create it’. It’s an observation that holds as true for the historical performance movement as much as it does for historians more generally. An especially apposite example of it would be the rise of Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 to prominence as a concert piece over the past seventy-five years. That rise, incidentally, is also one in which an Australian woman, Louise Hanson-Dyer, played a very significant role. The 1954 recording of the Vespers released under her L’Oiseau-Lyre label stands as one of the signature events in the work’s rise to prominence.

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Bluebeard’s Castle 

Opera Australia
by
03 March 2021

Béla Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle was premièred amid the chaotic, final months of the Great War. Its lugubrious symphonic mood, grim libretto, and static set gained respect rather than favour from its first anxious audience. A century on, now freed from the shackles of copyright (Bartók died in 1945), the opera invites new approaches, arrangements, and settings. There is even now an annual Hungarian opera festival, where the Duke and his latest wife are presented everywhere from night bars to spa baths.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream 

Adelaide Festival
by
01 March 2021

Comparisons can be odious, odorous, even otiose. Yet while I have lost count of the number of takes on Shakespeare’s play I have seen over the years – theatre, ballet, modern dance, knockabout collages of dance, movement and music, and opera – five stay in the memory. In the order in which I saw them, they are: the first revival at Sadler’s Wells in the mid-1960s of Britten’s 1960 opera, which marked the beginning of James Bowman’s stellar career; Max Reinhardt’s 1935 film; Peter Brook’s version of the play, which redefined it for not just one but several generations; Elijah Moshinsky’s powerfully evocative take on the opera from 1978 (also starring Bowman); and Declan Donnellan’s inspired and laugh-out-loud shaking up of the work for the Donmar Warehouse in the mid-1980s.

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Das Rheingold 

Melbourne Opera
by
05 February 2021

Finally liberated from the solitude of our lounge rooms and Netflix subscriptions, sitting in Melbourne’s Regent Theatre shoulder-to-shoulder on Wednesday night felt like a forbidden treat. The palpable exuberance of being back on the town, though, was tempered by a profound appreciation of our delicately privileged position. As the first major opera performance in Melbourne after a protracted Covid shutdown of the live performing arts, Melbourne Opera’s Das Rheingold marks an important moment in the cultural life of the city – the beginning both of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle and of a new chapter in the living operatic history of Melbourne.

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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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Summer of the Seventeenth Doll 

State Opera South Australia
by
16 November 2020

It gives some indication of the relative youth of Australian theatre that Ray Lawler, author of the watershed 1955 play Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (‘The Doll’ for short), is still alive. Ninety-nine years old, he apparently even had a hand in this production, just the second staging of Richard Mills and Peter Goldsworthy’s largely faithful operatic adaptation. Premièred by Opera Victoria in 1996, then remounted by Opera Australia two years later, the opera has not been performed since. It has now been dusted off, with minor changes made by composer–conductor Mills, by State Opera South Australia as part of its three-year ‘Lost Operas of Oz’ project. It’s a mark of Anglo-Australian culture’s immaturity, too, that it remains restless and amnesiac, almost wilfully ignorant of the past in its perpetual quest for the ‘next big thing’.   

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Così fan tutte 

WA Opera
by
26 October 2020

British director Nicholas Hynter’s production of Così fan tutte premièred at Glyndebourne in 2006. WA Opera’s Music Director Chris van Tuinen programmed it for their 2020 season. The set, costumes, props, and furniture were shipped to Perth, and the season substantially sold out. Then Covid-19 struck, and theatres (and Western Australian borders) closed.

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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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Requiem 

Adelaide Festival
by
06 March 2020

It may be that some members of the audience at Romeo Castellucci’s highly individual take on, and response to, Mozart’s Requiem, experience something similar. I certainly am aware from conversation (and observation) that some audience members did indeed respond to the stage images with closed eyes. But in doing so they denied themselves the opportunity to see and respond to some of the most evocative, poetic, and, yes, musical images seen on the Festival Theatre stage since Bo Holten’s Operation Orfeo back in the 1990s.

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