On Stage

From online performances to live gigs, we’ve put together a list of the most exciting events in classical music, operatheatre and dance taking place in May 2021.

Classical Music

Queensland Symphony Orchestra: Pictures at an Exhibition
The QSO is starting May with a bang: a brand new work, Sinfonia Concertante for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra, by Australian composer Gordon Kerry. Section principals, flautist Alison Mitchell and clarinettist Irit Silver, take the stage with conductor Benjamin Northey for this world premiere, which is bookended by Rimsky-Korsakov’s Overture from May Night on one side and the Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on the other.
1 May, QPAC, Brisbane, qso.com.au

West Australian Symphony Orchestra: Fantasy, Tragedy and Passion
Opening with Carl Vine’s orchestral fanfare V – which the West Australian Symphony Orchestra premiered some 18 years ago – this concert by WASO sees two of Australia’s rising stars take the stage. Harry Bennetts is the soloist in Mendelssohn’s lyrical Violin Concerto, while Thaddeus Huang conducts the orchestra in a program that includes Bizet’s first Suite from his hit opera Carmen and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet –  Fantasy Overture, based on Shakespeare’s play.
8 May, Perth Concert Hall, waso.com.au

Sydney Symphony Orchestra: Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony
Joshua Batty joined the Sydney Symphony as Principal Flute in 2019 and will be making his concerto debut with Carl Nielsen’s 1926 Flute Concerto this month, under the baton of Johannes Fritzsch (who replaces Donald Runnicles on the program). Nielsen wrote the work after he was impressed by the sound of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet and it has since become a pilar of the 20th-century flute repertoire. We’ll also hear the latest of the SSO’s 50 Fanfares commissions, Fanfaresso by Julian Yu, alongside Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Sixth Symphony.
12–15 May, Sydney Town Hall, sydneysymphony.com

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra: Schumann’s Cello Concerto and Dale Barltrop plays Schumann
Two Schumann concertos are at the centre of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s mid-May concerts, soloists and directors swapping places in between. The early evening concert will see Umberto Clerici join the orchestra as soloist for the Cello Concerto – alongside Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony – led by MSO Concertmaster Dale Barltrop, before Clerici steps up to the podium himself later in the evening to conduct Barltop in Schumann’s Violin Concerto, with Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Haydn.
13–15 May, Hamer Hall, Melbourne, mso.com.au

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra: Mozart and Latham
The Tasmanian String Quartet – a crack squad of TSO string players: violinists Emma McGrath and Jennifer Owen, violist Douglas Coghill and cellist Jonathan Békés – gives the world premiere of a new piece by Tasmanian composer Jabra Latham as part of the TSO’s City Park Series in Launceston. The new work will be unveiled alongside a performance of Mozart’s String Quartet in C, K.465, nicknamed ‘Dissonance’ for its unusual introduction.
22 May, Design Tasmania, Launceston, tso.com.au

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra: Meditation Series 2
Limelight’s Brett Allen-Bayes described the first of Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Meditation Series concerts in the Grainger Studio in March as “a salve” for our times. The series returns this month with a program that awakens with Anne Boyd’s The Beginning of the Day and guides the audience through Schoenberg’s Notturno for strings and harp, the first movement from Ross Edwards’ Chorale & Ecstatic Dance, Tavener’s The Lamb and Elgar’s Sospiri. The concert comes to a close with a world premiere: Luke Altmann’s Irenabyss.
28–29 May, Grainger Studio, Adelaide, aso.com.au

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra: Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
Have you ever heard two trombones dance the tango? Steven Verhelst’s Angel’s Tango, which had its world premiere in November last year, is coming to Hobart at the centre of this program of tango music by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. The concert opens with Verhelst’s brass arrangement of Piazzolla’s Suite from Maria de Buenos Aires and closes with the tango master’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, in an arrangement Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov created for Gidon Kremer in the 1990s.
29 May, Federation Concert Hall, Hobart, tso.com.au

Opera & Vocal

Opera Queensland: Are You Lonesome Tonight
Starting in Rockhampton on 4 May and winding up in Roma on 25 June, the Are You Lonesome Tonight regional tour will be the most extensive of its kind in Opera Queensland’s 40-year history, visiting nearly 30 communities and covering an epic 7000 kilometres. A quirky mix of opera and country music will see a cast of young Australian singers, including Irena Lysiuk, Marcus Corowa and Jonathan Hickey, tackle arias and songs by operatic composers like Puccini and Verdi alongside music by songwriters like Slim Dusty and Dolly Parton. The opening night will also feature the locally recruited “Beef Australia Community Chorus”. Yee-hah!
4 May – 25 June, Queensland, www.oq.com.au

Amber Wagner as Aida and Riccardo Massi as Radamès in Opera Australia’s 2018 production of Aida. Photo © Prudence Upton

Opera Australia: Aida
With its towering digital screens offering sensory and sometimes dramatic overload, Davide Livermore’s 2018 production got a mixed reaction from the critics. Limelight’s Jo Litson found some of it “thrilling”, especially the choreography, but other aspects were felt to be “verging on naff”. There is plenty of splendour, however, and some judicious use of video elements plus an interesting cast with Italian tenor Stefano La Colla (a noted Calaf at La Scala) making his Opera Australia debut as Radamès, American soprano Leah Crocetto in the title role, and Elena Gabouri reprising her turn as Aida’s rival, Amneris. Tahu Matheson conducts.
6–21 May, Arts Centre Melbourne, opera.org.au

State Opera South Australia: Sweeney Todd
With its darkly glittering score and a song list that includes The Worst Pies in London and Not While I’m Around, Stephen Sondheim’s grizzly musical is box office gold these days. Stuart Maunder’s well-received staging for Victorian Opera now finds its way to Adelaide. Ben Mingay sings the Demon Barber with Antoinette Halloran reprising her star turn as his pie-packing accomplice Mrs Lovett. Anthony Hunt conducts a cast that also includes Douglas McNicol and Mark Oates as the black-hearted Judge Turpin and Beadle Bamford, Nicholas Cannon as Anthony, Desiree Frahn as the hapless Johanna, and Mat Verevis as the simple-minded Tobias.
8–15 May, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide, stateopera.com.au

Opera Australia: Ernani
Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s staging of one of Verdi’s more underrated operas didn’t go down well at La Scala and Deborah Jones wasn’t impressed for Limelight when it played Sydney either: “Bechtolf’s primary argument seems to be that Ernani is such a load of old tosh it needs to be viewed with amusement and a very modern sense of detachment,” she wrote. “Such an approach certainly cools the overheated surface, but it comes at a big price.” There are compensations, however. Maestro Renato Palumbo is a seriously impressive Verdian and a fine-looking cast includes Diego Torre, Natalie Aroyan, Vladimir Stoyanov and Alexander Vinogradov.
13–22 May, Arts Centre Melbourne, opera.org.au

West Australian Opera: Elijah
An intriguing one, this. WA Opera sees Mendelssohn’s Biblical oratorio as an opera in disguise. Collaborating with the UWA Conservatorium of Music in the form of the UWA Symphony Orchestra and UWA Symphonic Chorus, director Patrick Nolan is staging the work in the round with soloists singing from the stage, galleries and from the central floor. Christopher van Tuinen conducts the work, which will be sung in English. Baritone James Clayton takes on the title role of the fiery Old Testament prophet and the line-up of soloists also includes soprano Lisa Harper-Brown, mezzo-soprano Chelsea Kluga and tenor Paul O’Neill. Down with the prophets of Baal, indeed.
14–16 May, Winthrop Hall, University of Western Australia, waopera.asn.au

Pinchgut Opera: The Loves of Apollo & Dafne
A delightful rarity from the pioneering early music company. Premiered in Venice in 1640, Gli Amori d’Apollo e di Dafne was only Cavalli’s second opera but already shows his command of the form and willingness to experiment. Weaving a series of romantic and comical subplots around the god Apollo’s ultimately fruitless pursuit of the nymph Daphne, its convoluted story should provide plenty of opportunities for director Mitchell Butel to have fun. Soprano Alexandra Oomens sings Dafne with countertenor Max Riebl as her would-be lover. Stacey Alleaume, Jacqueline Dark, David Hidden and Andrew O’Connor make up the rest of the cast with Erin Helyard conducting the Orchestra of the Antipodes.
20–26 May, City Recital Hall, Sydney, pinchgutopera.com.au

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs: Carmina Burana
Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is a thoroughly enjoyable work you don’t hear live as often as you think you do. Based on a collection of ribald 13th-century poems, Orff chose tales of naughty nuns, bibulous monks and pretty countryfolk getting up to all sorts set to a smorgasbord of catchy tunes. The full orchestration is a dazzling crash, bang, wallop of a thing, but the more rarely performed 1956 version for two pianos and six percussionists is also highly exciting. Brett Weymark conducts with soloists Penny Mills, Andrew Goodwin and José Carbó, and the program also includes works by Deborah Cheetham and Matthew Doyle, Peter Sculthorpe and John Peterson.
22 May, Sydney Town Hall, sydneyphilharmonia.com.au

Theatre

Ensemble Theatre: Honour
Joanna Murray-Smith’s new play Berlin currently has its world premiere production at Melbourne Theatre Company (see page 46). In Sydney, the Ensemble is staging her 1995 play Honour, which has become a modern Australian classic. George and Honor have been happily married for 32 years. She is a successful writer, he is a revered columnist. Everything seems perfect until a pushy young journalist comes to interview George, and he leaves his wife and 24-year old daughter to be with her. Exploring long-term relationships and infidelity, Honour has been staged around the world. Kate Champion directs the play for the Ensemble with a cast including Lucy Bell and Huw Higginson.
23 April – 5 June, Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, Sydney, ensemble.com.au

Melbourne Theatre Company: The Lifespan of a Fact
The stylish, hyper-intelligent Broadway comedy by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell tackles one of the big questions of our time – true or false? With “fake news” now part of our vocabulary, the theme is decidedly topical. A young man called Jim has landed an internship at a prestigious literary magazine and a once-in-a-lifetime assignment to fact check a new essay by a writer he idolises. But he quickly discovers that separating fact from fiction isn’t easy. The 2018 Broadway season featured Daniel Radcliffe and Bobby Cannavale. Petra Kalive directs the play for MTC with a cast including Nadine Garner, Steve Mouzakis and Karl Richmond.
15 May – 3 July, Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne,
mtc.com.au

National Tour: A German Life
This 90-minute solo tour de force starring Robyn Nevin was one of the hits of the 2021 Adelaide Festival. Nevin plays Brunhilde Pomsel, who worked as a secretary at Joseph Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry. John Frost is now touring the play, which was written by Christopher Hampton, based on interviews Pomsel did at the age of 103. In Limelight’s four-star review Gordon Forester said: “As a recorded eyewitness account and study of humanity, this is an important and necessary piece. As a piece of theatre, this Australian premiere quite rightly challenges us to the point of discomfort.” Directed by Neil Armfield, the tour begins this month in Canberra then moves to Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
11–16 May, Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, canberratheatrecentre.com.au

The Australian Ballet: Counterpointe
This Sydney-only program sets the classicism of the third act of Petipa’s Raymonda, featuring the wedding of the hero and heroine, against the rigour of American choreographer William Forsythe’s one-act ballet Artifact Suite, performed to Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin and urgent piano pieces by Eva Crossman-Hecht. The program is completed with Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, choreographed to a piece of music Tchaikovsky composed for Swan Lake that was thought lost but was discovered in 1953. “The juxtaposition of Raymonda and Artifact Suite shows the evolution of classical ballet,” said Artistic Director David Hallberg. “These seminal works both counteract and perfectly complement each other.”
27 April – 15 May, Sydney Opera House, australianballet.com.au

Chatswood Cultural Bites & Legs On The Wall: Next Chapters: Uplifting Orchestral Manoeuvres
Powerhouse aerialists from physical theatre makers Legs On The Wall join forces with musicians from the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra for the Next Chapters concert, staged as part of the Chatswood Cultural Program. The breathtaking physical feats of Legs On The Wall will be performed to Holy Dreaming, an evocative, dance-like score by Alice Chance, the orchestra’s composer-in-residence, and to Shostakovich’s exuberant Ninth Symphony. The concert also includes Elena Kats-Chernin’s Five Chapters, and The Phoenix, a tone poem by Joseph Newton, the winner of the WSO’s Young Composer’s Award.
22–23 May, The Concourse, Chatswood, Sydney, theconcourse.com.au

The Little Prince. Photo © Philippe Hanula

Sydney Opera House: The Little Prince
This contemporary adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic French novella, Le Petit Prince, combines dance, aerial acrobatics and new technologies, including projections, to create a fantastical, dreamlike, poetic universe in which the Little Prince meets an array of magnificent characters. Directed by Anne Tournié, the family production touches on themes including friendship, love, technological progress, consumption and the decay of modern society. In a five-star review, Le Figaro described it as a “leap into a magical childhood”. After sold out houses at the Folies Bergère in Paris in 2019 and Dubai Opera in 2020, it now comes to Sydney.
26 May – 6 June, Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, sydneyoperahouse.com

Australasian Dance Collective: Three
Just days before the Australasian Dance Collective premiered Three in April 2020, the season was knocked on the head by COVID. A year on, the triple bill opens at QPAC. Three features the Australian premieres of works by Australian choreographers Jack Lister and Melanie Lane, and renowned London-based Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter. Presented in association with the Hofesh Shechter Company, ADC presents Cult, the 2004 work that launched Shechter’s career. It will be the first time his work has been performed in Queensland. Brisbane-based Lister fuses dance and visual art in his work Still Life. Inspired by the artworks of the 16th and 17th-century Memento Mori movement, it explores mortality, the beauty in decay, and time. Lane (Woof ), is joined by long-term musical collaborator Clark for Alterum (Latin for “other”), which draws on Greek mythology, superhero culture and fashion.
26–29 May, Playhouse Theatre, QPAC, australasiandancecollective.com