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Opera

The Phantom of the Opera 

by
28 March 2022

I don’t remember why we were talking about The Phantom of the Opera, the nuclear-proof blockbuster that has rung out from multiple cities every day since its London première in 1986. But I do remember the question posed so absurdly by my psychiatrist that it made me scoff, like the diva Carlotta discovering that she’s been relegated to a minor role in the masked one’s fiendish new score.

‘Do you think you enjoy the musical because you relate to the protagonist?’

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Peter Grimes 

by
18 March 2022

Sadly, stage productions of Benjamin Britten and Montagu Slater’s opera Peter Grimes are now few and far between in Australia, notwithstanding the fact that the work’s exploration of psychological distress and social ostracisation has lost none of its currency. Britten’s score, while incorporating significant modernist musical elements, also remains both accessible and attractive. And Australia can also boast of having produced two of the finest exponents of the title role in Ronald Dowd and Stuart Skelton (who sang the role in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s concert version in 2019).

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Jonny spielt auf 

by
15 March 2022

Despite being one of the most successful and influential operas of all time, Ernst Krenek’s Jonny spielt auf (1926) is now something of a stage novelty. We are inclined to assume, perhaps, that the operatic genre it spawned, the Zeitoper, contained the seeds of its own obsolescence. As a new production at the Gärtnerplatztheater in Munich demonstrates, however, the work retains a capacity to shock and inform, as well as to entertain.

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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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Neil Armfield’s production of Watershed ­– a new oratorio by composer Joe Twist and co-librettists Alana Valentine and Christos Tsolkias about the murder of Ian Duncan by police in Adelaide in 1972 and the subsequent cover-up and campaign for homosexual legal reform – is an angry, brave, beautiful, emotionally shattering, and unexpectedly uplifting work.

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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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Die Walküre 

by
11 February 2022

Richard Wagner’s famous pronouncement, ‘Kinder, schafft Neues!’ (‘Children, create something new!’), has often been the inspiration to take daring creative risks, particularly (but not exclusively) with productions of his works. Using The Ring as a starting point, directorial licence has been extended in all sorts of intriguing ways that have, over the years, seen Valkyries roaring around on motorcycles, Rhinemaidens as strutting Victorian doxies, the dragon Fafner at the turret of an army tank, Wotan as a Texan oligarch, Siegfried as a hippie, and Gunther and the Gibichungs as Nazis.

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Platée 

by
03 December 2021

Jean-Philippe Rameau’s setting of Adrien-Joseph Le Valois d’Orville’s adaptation of Jacques Autreau’s then unpublished and unperformed play Platée must be considered one of the most tactless entertainments ever presented to celebrate a royal wedding. The story of the ugly, vain water nymph who is used as a pawn to salvage the rocky marriage of Jupiter and Juno was certainly not the usual bland extravaganza to be expected at such an occasion. It probably didn’t help that the Dauphin Louis’s bride, Maria-Theresa of Spain, was not considered conventionally attractive.

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The Marriage of Figaro 

WA Opera
by
26 October 2021

The Marriage of Figaro is one of my favourite operas. So imagine my delight at being offered a complimentary ticket by my friend and colleague Humphrey Bower to the opening night of a new production by Opera Queensland presented by the West Australian Opera at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth, as well as being granted the opportunity to step into Humphrey’s shoes and review the production. Fortunately, our feet are of similar size, although I needed to remove his orthotics and insert my own before making my way to the theatre.

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Macbeth 

Melbourne Opera
by
24 May 2021

As the third Verdi opera on offer in Melbourne this season (along with Opera Australia’s Aida and Ernani), Melbourne Opera’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth at Her Majesty’s Theatre is a mixed offering. Verdi wrote Macbeth ­– one of his earliest operas and less celebrated than his later Shakespearean works, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893) – when he was thirty-three; it had its première in Florence in 1847. Both musically and dramatically, it is clearly rooted in the bel canto era, which prioritised beautiful singing above all else. In 1865, Verdi revised the opera for the Paris Opera. Usually, one version or the other is performed; however, this performance saw an amalgamation of the two. This creation of a new version of Verdi’s work might be considered either innovative or musicologically messy. Regardless, it further complicates the relationship between source work and adaptation that is, for better or worse, always at play in Shakespeare-based opera.

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