It’s that time of year again. Opera Australia has announced its 2013 season. There’s a press release freshly landed in my email inbox and from the opening paragraphs, you’d be forgiven for thinking this might be a controversial season. Opera Australia, it says, will “re-position itself as Australia’s international role… taking a leading role as a pioneer of the artform”. “The question of ‘what is opera to contemporary Australia'”, we’re told, “now underpins every artistic decision” and reference is made to the “controversial” dialogue between Lyndon Terracini and “the wider public”. (Limelight‘s coverage yesterday included comments from an interview with Terracini.) 

Yet in the ensuing list of new production and revivals, I can’t say I see much controversy brewing – except maybe over the return (already!) of South Pacific, since I know the question of opera companies staging musicals is always a contentious one. There’s also a visit by avant-garde theatre group La Fura dels Baus, who will stage Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera as part of both the Sydney Festival and OA’s celebration of the composer’s bicentenary; but I’d hazard a guess that most savvy operagoers will be more intrigued and excited by that prospect than appalled. (That said, I just took a closer look at the tiny image attached to the press release, and the Ballo does look rather, well, Nazi-influenced. So there may well be a fair bit of outcry.) In any case, it’s heartening indeed to see Australia’s national company collaborate with some of the wider opera world’s cutting edge creative talents.

2013, as we know, is a year of operatic anniversaries: Verdi and Wagner both turn 200, while Benjamin Britten reaches his centenary. Plans for the Melbourne Ring have been public for months now, and there’s no new information in this press release about Neil Armfield’s plans for the production. We know from comments he’s made in the press that it will be a fairly modern staging, but beyond that we shall have to wait and see. Verdi, believe it or not, is even more heavily represented than Wagner in the 2013 season, with six (count ’em, six) of his operas making an appearance. Britten, I’m afraid, has only one outing, a revival of John Cox’s production of Albert Herring. Perhaps not the Britten-at-the-seaside opera many were hoping for, but a fabulous choice just the same – and just wait till you see the cast.

By the time you read this, the embargo currently hovering over the press release will have ended, and you’ll no doubt be able to see for yourselves all the details of the season. Probably superfluous, then, for me to rehash them in full; so let me just  point you in the direction of some of the highlights. My own chances of seeing anything in this season are, alas, remote (even the Melbourne Ring, despite a few Friends in the Right Places, is looking out of reach) but as ever, I shan’t let that prevent my taking vicarious pleasure in some of the nifty things OA has to offer next year.

The Melbourne Ring hardly needs me to spruik it, and I believe it’s very nearly sold out by now anyway. But clearly this is going to be big event for Opera Australia and for Australian opera in general, and I can’t wait to see how the company and the cast – both the seasoned Wagnerians and those making first forays into this repertoire – rise to the occasion. Despite having a Significant Other in the cast, I can tell you I know as little about the details of this Ring cycle as anyone; but I’m as curious as anything, and hoping it might even be filmed. The Adelaide Ring tragically wasn’t; now maybe OA can help make up for that.

Ring aside, it will come as no surprise that top of my list is the new production of Tosca, directed by John Bell and starring Takesha Meshé Kizart and, you guessed it, Cheryl Barker in the title role. You’ll no doubt recall that it was the last new production of Tosca that occasioned Takesha’s OA début, after Cheryl withdrew. Now they’re sharing duties, and the production sounds like it strikes a similar middle ground between the old John Copley traditional staging and Christopher Alden’s polarising effort. Alden went for Berlusconi’s Italy; Bell has opted for Mussolini’s. I loved the Butterfly Bell directed for Oz Opera a few years ago, so it will be fascinating to see what he does with mainstage resources. John Wegner also returns as Scarpia for this production, and if you’ve seen him in the role, you know he’s as unmissable as either of his divas.

It’s nice to see Falstaff make a return as part of the Verdi celebrations, and even nicer to see that Warwick Fyfe will make his début in the title role: a part I can imagine fitting his comic gifts perfectly. The La Fura dels Baus Ballo in maschera is obviously another one to look out for, and so too is La forza del destino directed by Tama Matheson. The rest of the Verdi is revivals: a Traviata, a Trovatore and an Aida, the latter two both starring Italian soprano Daria Masiero.

And for those Sydneysiders suffering Verdi-fatigue, the Sydney summer season does also include Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, which is always good for a laugh; it also marks the Opera Australia début of Todd McKenney.

Another new production I’m sad to be missing is Don Pasquale, a vehicle at last for both the impeccable bel canto credentials and wacky comic antics of the wonderful Rachelle Durkin. With Conal Coad as Pasquale, I can’t really see how this could go wrong. It’s running more or less in tandem with Tosca, so if anyone fancies flying me over, do get in touch… And I might just stay on for Albert Herring which, with Kanen Breen in the title role and Jacqui Dark as Lady Billows, promises to be campy tour de force.

There’s also a Melbourne-only revival of Christopher Alden’s Partenope, for which Catherine Carby (who decamped to the UK after the premiere production) will return, and of course the small matter of Handa Opera on the Harbour which in 2013 will be a Gale Edwards production of Carmen. Edwards’s La bohème also returns, opening in suitably splashy style on New Year’s Eve – an alternative to the NYE Gala which will be happening in the Concert Hall next door. 

Skimming back through the press release, it would seem I’ve managed to mention pretty much every show. My information doesn’t include full cast lists, so I’ll be interested to see those when they surface; but the names mentioned – both the Australians and the overseas imports – are mostly familiar. And I daresay they’ll provide plenty of fodder for both discussion and eager anticipation. On which note I think I should probably hand over to you, dear readers. What do you make of the new season? Does it live up to the company’s pioneering promises? Which decisions have you grinning with glee – and which ones have you scratching your head? What’s taken you by surprise, and what/who do you think is missing? Many of you, after all, will be the ones actually experiencing this new season – so I’d love to know how you feel about it all.