ABR Arts Opera

Das Rheingold 

Emma Muir-Smith
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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Michael Halliwell
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 

Ben Brooker
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 

Humphrey Bower
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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Michael Halliwell
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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Michael Morley
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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Will Yeoman
02 March 2020

‘For a moment let’s imagine a world entirely unlike ours,’ asks narrator Eryn Jean Norvill as she sets the scene for this thrilling concert performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio. And yet, 250 years after the composer’s birth, political prisoners are still detained, and worse, for daring to tell truth to power. And lovers? ‘Everyone is imprisoned within their own misdirected desires. Just like real life,’ continues Alison Croggon’s text, written as part of this WASO and Perth Festival commission presented in association with WA Opera, conducted by principal conductor Asher Fisch and directed by Black Swan State Theatre Company’s Clare Watson.

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Michael Shmith
26 February 2020

For all its intense brevity, Salome is notoriously difficult to stage and perform. Richard Strauss might have adroitly described his opera (first performed in 1905) as ‘a scherzo with a fatal conclusion’, but his great admirer Gustav Mahler was closer to the mark when he said ‘deeply at work in it … is a live volcano, a subterranean fire’. Both points of view were more than justified by this generally fine performance of Salome.

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Elizabeth Kertesz
07 February 2020

Beethoven struggled with his only opera, Fidelio, for more than a decade, composing, rearranging, and composing anew until, in 1814, he declared that the opera would earn him a ‘martyr’s crown’. This tale of Leonore, who infiltrated a Spanish prison disguised as a man to liberate her husband, Florestan, allowed the composer to express his deepest thoughts on justice and freedom.

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La Bohème 

Peter Rose
07 January 2020

Gale Edwards’s production of La Bohème is back for an extended summer season – sixteen performances no less. This production has been filling theatres since its creation in 2011. It may not run for as long as Franco Zeffirelli’s 1981 extravaganza, still an annual fixture at the Metropolitan Opera, but it probably has another good decade to go. Revived here by Liesel Badorrek, it works considerably better in the tiny Joan Sutherland Theatre than it did in the State Theatre in 2018; the latter is too palatial for bohemian confinement and privations.

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