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Opera Australia has revealed its 2013 line-up, bookended by major festivals dedicated to opera’s two birthday boys: Verdi in Sydney, and Wagner in Melbourne.
Following on from this year’s Mozart summer festival (The Magic Flute, Così fan tutte, The Marriage of Figaro) artistic director Lyndon Terracini today announced a quartet of Verdi operas celebrating the Italian master’s bicentenary. Sydney’s summer season opens on January 16 with a new production of Un ballo in maschera (A Maked Ball) presented by Sydney Festival and staged by renegade Spanish theatre and acrobatic troupe La Fura dels Baus, last scene in Australia for the 2010 Adelaide Festival in Ligeti’s fantastical opera Le Grand Macabre.
Terracini says that the gravity-defying group has special needs: “The set is pretty amazing and we’ve got a special grid that has to be built, with motors to lift and lower scenery.” He added that the world-premiere production is a joint commission partnering with European houses including La Monnaie in Brussels.
Opera Australia’s traversal of Verdi continues with Elke Neidhardt’s Il trovatore, the composer’s final, comic masterpiece Falstaff with baritone Warwick Fyfe as the eponymous dolt; La Forza del destino (The Force of Destiny) follows in June. Soprano Emma Matthews reprises her role as Violetta in La Traviata the following month, this time in a revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s production.
Melbournians will have to wait until the end of 2013 for Opera Australia’s pièce de résistance: the company stages its first complete Ring cycle there in November, in a $15 million colossus directed by Neil Armfield. Terracini claims tickets, which were available only as a set of four across the tetralogy with Premium packages priced at $2,000, are close to completely sold out.
Terracini agrees that this structure caters to the die-hard Wagnerians but that those wishing to dip a toe in with a single opera from the series will not have the luxury: “We decided not to sell tickets separately and that’s worked, because you can’t get a ticket now. To do the Ring, it’s not cheap. The bottom line is, we gave everyone plenty of notice that this was on. Bookings opened quite some time ago. First in, best dressed. I feel sorry for them, if they are unable to see it.”
If his lack of sympathy seems at odds with statements like, “If you think you can just play to this narrow little club... That’s not Australia, and it’s not democratic and we’re not going to do it,” Terracini is quick to espouse the merits of Opera Australia’s free annual Domain performance, and the Opera Oz regional touring program, the Community Choirs project, the international cinema screenings and other worthy ventures.
Flanked by two opera titans, Benjamin Britten has his centenary this year, and gets a look in with chamber opera Albert Herring, starring tenor Kanen Breen in the irresistibly camp title role.
Following the fireworks of La Traviata, the first Opera on Sydney Harbour this year, the company’s second outing on the floating stage will be another warhorse – Carmen directed by Gale Edwards, whose lavish 2011 La bohème will be reprised for the 2012–13 New Year’s Eve Gala.
Christopher Alden’s controversial, much-lambasted production of Tosca will be unceremoniously jettisoned in favour of a new offering from John Bell. Terracini emphasises that it’s "a Tosca that would connect with audiences. It is a much more traditional approach."
As for the light, music theatre fare that has raised eyebrows and sparked debate within the opera community: Opera Australia will be re-running the Lincoln Center South Pacific, just a year after its maiden voyage this month. Also in 2013, theatre stalwart and TV personality Todd McKenney straps on his dancing shoes for his operatic debut in Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld. Terracini shrugs off those detractors who criticise the opera company for wading into populist Broadway territory as a moneymaking exercise: "They’re very prejudiced people. They’re very silly and, frankly, I’m not interested in what those people have to say.
"I don’t think there’s another opera company in the world that has increased its budget by $30 million a year. We’ve done that, so $100 million a year company. That’s been done through ticket sales, sponsorship and finding other avenues so that we can generate income. I think that’s a pretty amazing think for an opera company to do at this present time when opera companies and symphony orchestras all over the world are just closing their doors. We’re the only one that’s going actually against the tide."