My personal selection of the hottest tickets for opera-lovers around Australia.
That was quick! 2011 has been and gone and we’re already halfway through January, but I think 2012 is still new enough for me to sneak a year-ahead post in. Not my year, per se; I’ll probably bore you enough with that as it actually progresses. No, in the time-honoured operatic tradition of Performance Envy, I thought I’d look instead at what I won’t get to see: all the brilliant performances happening in Australia.
As it happens, I’ll actually be in Australia quite a bit next year, and because the opera gods love me – or, at least, because the global conspiracy against me has subsided – I will in fact manage to see some of the performances which would otherwise have been on this list. Cheryl Barker in Die Tote Stadt, for instance. And of course, some of the other obvious highlights – the Adelaide Symphony’s Das Lied von der Erde, Act I of Die Walküre in Melbourne, Pique Dame at the SSO – are the very reason I’ll be in town, so I’ve left those off as well.
Here, then, in chronological order, are the Top 12 Performances I’ll Miss in 2012:
Elektra, West Australian Opera
February 8, 11, 14
I love Big Scary Strauss as much as I love Meltingly Pretty Strauss, and while we had plenty of the latter in Sydney in the last few years, the former is generally harder to come by – and there are few Big Scary Strauss operas I long to hear live more than Elektra. CDs and DVDs are all very well, but that’s an opera you really need to see in the flesh and be overwhelmed by, and so far, I’ve not had the chance. The cast in Perth is a strong one, including some luxury casting (Merlyn Quaife! Fiona Campbell!) in smaller roles and Eva Johansson as Elektra: not a singer I’m especially familiar with, but this video, I think you’ll agree, bodes well. And then some.
In the Penal Colony, Sydney Chamber Opera
(March, dates TBA)
A Philip Glass opera based on a Kafka story. Guaranteed to bewilder. It’s not so much an undying love for Philip Glass which puts this on my list (which is not to say I dislike him either) but rather my admiration for Sydney Chamber Opera for its fascinating repertoire choices and – by all reports – extremely high standards of performance. The company sprang up not long before I left Sydney, and has fairly blossomed in my absence, garnering rave reviews which I’ve read enviously ever since. I’d love the chance to see them in action.
Other Love Songs, Melbourne Recital Centre
The Australian premiere of a new song cycle by pianist/composer/painter/columnist/all-round-clever-person Stephen Hough, exploring various forms of love other than that between a man and a woman. It was premiered last year by The Prince Consort, a fabulous group of young British singers whose artistic director Alisdair Hogarth commissioned the cycle. In Melbourne it’s performed (alongside other works, including some Brahms and some German cabaret) by Songmakers Australia.
Susan Graham, Melbourne Recital Centre
Need I explain why this is on my wishlist? It’s Susan Graham. Singing. With Malcolm Martineau. The MRC site doesn’t list specific repertoire, just “songs from the Baroque to Broadway”, but would it matter? Again, it’s Susan Graham. No doubt Melbourne’s opera types will turn out for this one in their droves; if they don’t then the world will no longer make sense.
Turandot, Opera Australia [Melbourne] (April 10 – May 11)
I should be more specific. Elizabeth Connell as Turandot. I mean, I’m sure the rest of the cast will be great too, and while I’ve not seen Graeme Murphy’s production, it does seem to be a bit of a favourite. But I have never yet managed to hear the mighty Elizabeth Connell live, and this is frustrating, because I can’t imagine that the experience is anything other than spectacular. Here’s a clip of her In questa reggia, filmed less than a year ago, which does absolutely nothing to lessen my envy of those who’ll hear her in Melbourne.
Wagner Gala, Sydney Symphony (August 9, 10, 11)
The Sydney Symphony recreates the all-Wagner concert which was its first official performance in the shiny new Sydney Opera House, back in 1973. That concert featured Charles Mackerras and Birgit Nilsson; this one has Simone Young and Christine Brewer, and the program is as meaty now as it was then: big chunks, both orchestral and vocal, from Meistersinger, Tristan, Tannhäuser and Götterdammerung.
In my years in Sydney, I never did manage to see Simone Young in action, nor have I heard Christine Brewer in person. I’d also love to be swamped by Wagner in that concert hall. No, it’s not my favourite acoustic for voices, but I suspect Brewer’s is one which would transcend it. Besides, to hear Simone and the SSO blazing their way through some of Wagner’s greatest moments would be a pretty special experience in and of itself – throw in the time travel aspect and, well, it all just sounds like incredible fun.
Master Peter’s Puppet Show, What’s Next? Victorian Opera
I was torn between picking this and Victorian Opera’s production of The Rake’s Progress, an opera I would dearly love to see live, and featuring the oh-so-lovely Tiffany Speight as Ann Trulove. Yes please. However, I picked this in the end, if only for sheer inventiveness.
While Opera Australia does its best to stage all the world’s warhorses in a single season (and yes, I more or less understand why, and why VO doesn’t have to do likewise) Victorian Opera comes along with a de Falla/Carter double bill. Master Peter’s Puppet Show and What Next?I don’t, I fear, know either opera (I hadn’t even heard of the de Falla one) but that’s all the more reason to wish I could see this show. Plus the Carter features Jessica Aszodi, a soprano who intrigued me greatly in VO’s Ariadne auf Naxos a few years, and whom I’d very much like to hear again.
Salome, Opera Australia
Sydney (October 12 – November 3)
Yes, I’m going to see this show in Melbourne. Yes, the cast is almost exactly the same. There is one difference, though, and that’s in the Jochanaan. In Melbourne, it’s Peter Coleman-Wright; in Sydney, John Wegner. These are my two favourite Australian baritones. In fact, they’re two of my favourite baritones anywhere. If I could only pick one cast to hear – and that is in fact the case – then I would pick Melbourne’s, if only for the, um, theatrical possibilities of a Salome and Jochanaan who are husband and wife – I understand that they were fairly intense when paired as Tosca and Scarpia.
Still, if I could see both casts, I absolutely would. John Wegner is, as has been established, awesome, and I’d love to see what he’d make of Jochanaan, who makes a bit of a change from John’s usual repertoire of snarling villains. And of course, let’s face it, I am a Cheryl Barker completist, and any performance of hers I miss – whatever the compensation – is always a stab to my poor, devoted heart.
Utzon Room (November 11)
This is just one of those confluences of Good Things. A gorgeous soprano in a lovely, intimate venue, singing repertoire to die for. Mozart arias and French songs: it’s the kind of recital of which a soprano nut like me dreams. I don’t know whether Australian audiences will know Sophie’s name – she’s newish on the scene in the UK, and yet to conquer the world, although she has made quite a few recordings. To be honest, I know her name much better than her voice, but the audio clips on her agency page confirm what I’d suspected, which is that she is completely my type of soprano.
I think it’s brilliant that the Utzon Room series includes a recital like this. Deborah Voigt and Ian Bostridge will sing there this year too, and both of these are of course significant coups, but it’s just as important to be presenting stars on the rise as well, to keep Antipodean audiences in touch not just with the established singers – the ones with Met contracts and recording deals to burn – but with what’s new and exciting on the opera scene as well.
Melbourne Recital Centre (November 21)
Bit of a wildcard, this one. I don’t know the repertoire at all. But baroque music from countries other than the usual ones (England, France, Germany, Italy) is always incredibly interesting. Jordi Savall’s Spanish Baroque excursions, for instance, are a fabulous conflation of the familiar and the exotic. There’s also a series of CDs called Bolivian Baroque which I absolutely loved, and which I strongly recommend to anyone whose inclination go that way. No, I have no idea how Mexican Baroque compares to either of these, but either way, it’s bound to be interesting; and performed by an Australian ensemble, what’s more.
(December 14, 15, 16)
To be honest, I wouldn’t usually have picked a Messiah. I know, I know, it’s full of beautiful music and it’s a Christmas tradition, but there are any number of oratorios – by Handel and otherwise – I enjoy more. However, the MSO’s has something no other Australian Messiah has. Or rather, someone. It has Karina Gauvin.
I am in love with Karina Gauvin, whose voice is made of pearl and silver and fire and ice. I’ve been gazing at calendars (hers and mine) all year, trying to find a city in which she and I might coincide, but with no luck. Melbourne is no exception and it breaks my heart more than perhaps anything else in this list. It could only hurt more if the work in question were something I love more than Messiah. But oh, just the thought of Karina’s I know that my Redeemer liveth… It’s enough to make a girl cry. Love her for me, Melbourne.
Those are my picks. Your mileage may – in fact, certainly will – vary, so I’d love it if you shared your own highlights of the upcoming season in the comments section. Go on, make me jealous.
Rameau Les Indes Galantes
(December, dates TBA)
This is going to be so much fun. If you’ve seen the Les Arts Florissants production of this opera on DVD (pictured), you know what I mean. It’s insane. A series of zany exotic vignettes, featuring Turks, Incas, Persians and Native American Indians, all through a French Baroque filter. And of course preceded by a prologue featuring Greek gods, because that clearly makes sense.
There’s also a lot of dancing, because it’s French opera and it took them centuries to believe that you could have opera without ballet. (Just ask Wagner.) Les indes galantes also includes perhaps the catchiest tune in the whole French Baroque repertoire, not to mention the most danceable. It makes me so happy that Pinchgut is staging this following their 2005 Dardanus by the same composer, starring Paul Agnew – I can’t wait to see the cast – and sad to think I might miss it. That depends very much on when in December it happens, however, so for now, I’ll just keep hoping. And dancing along to this…