Opera Australia

Based on Antonio Garcia Gutierrez’s El Trovador, a romantic melodrama set against the backdrop of a fifteenth-century Spanish civil war, Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore has been described as the ‘apotheosis of the bel canto opera, with its demands for vocal beauty, agility and range’. Yet in what is also his darkest and most death-haunted work, Verdi invests the brightness and vocal embellishments of bel canto with greater dramatic tension ...

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Il Trovatore 

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20 July 2022

Whenever you hear a good performance of any one of at least half a dozen operas by Giuseppe Verdi, it’s tempting to think: this surely he can never have surpassed. Il Trovatore, from his fecund middle phase, is one such opera. But then one recalls La Traviata and Don Carlo and Otello – on the list goes – and simply marvels at the variety and richness of his oeuvre.

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Conceived during a holiday in the spa-town of Marienbad, Lohengrin stands at the crossroads of Richard Wagner’s operatic oeuvre: it was the last work composed before his political exile (as a result of his participation in the Dresden Uprising) while offering a glimpse of the leitmotivic technique that would become the signature of his late style.

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Lohengrin 

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16 May 2022

Not long before the 1845 première of Tannhäuser, Richard Wagner was holidaying at the spa of Marienbad. He had with him a copy of the anonymous German epic Lohengrin, and he was possessed. Ever the sensualist, he described the impact in luxurious terms:

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La Traviata 

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09 May 2022

Opera Australia’s Melbourne season began on 4 May with a revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1994 production of La Traviata, often seen here before. The season ends on 28 May, with eight more performances. It’s a short work, with four scenes each about thirty minutes long, ideal for those new to opera or keen for melodic relief from election discord.

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The Phantom of the Opera 

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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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La Juive 

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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 

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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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Bluebeard’s Castle 

Opera Australia
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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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Ernani 

Opera Australia
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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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