Cheryl Barker and Jose Carbo unveil the new opera season in style.

Opera Australia’s season launch on Tuesday August 9 was opened to the public for the first time in the company’s history. No longer just a media and industry affair, the free event showed artistic director Lyndon Terracini is serious about moving the focus away from rarefied circles and reaching out to new audiences.

One of the most inventive initiatives of Terracini’s first programmed season is to abandon the Sydney Opera House’s beleaguered, undersized orchestra pit altogether for the Australian premiere of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s masterpiece Die Tote Stadt. The opera’s huge forces will be accommodated by the Studio next door, to be heard in surround sound in the theatre.

It is the right work to entertain such a daring concept: the production will emphasise Korngold’s lush, cinematic orchestral writing – he was one of the 20th century’s most celebrated Hollywood composers – through technological elements including screenings, holograms, and a production directed by film veteran Bruce Beresford.

Soprano Cheryl Barker and baritone José Carbo celebrated the move at yesterday’s launch with preview performances of arias from Die Tote Stadt, in which they will sing leading roles. Other performances at yesterday’s event included Emma Matthews’ vivacious Sempre libera from La Traviata and Rosario La Spina singing Nessun dorma (Graeme Murphy’s Turandot makes a comeback in January). 

The summer season opens with a Mozart triptych – Opera Australia’s first festival-style grouping dedicated to a single composer – with all works in accessible English translation. Jim Sharman’s Così fan tutte returns alongside the long-awaited contemporary production of The Marriage of Figaro from Ralph Myers, postponed in 2010 for financial reasons. The company’s major Mozartian coup has been procuring the New York Metropolitan Opera’s production of The Magic Flute by Julie Taymor (The Lion King).

Another imported production, bound to delight Broadway buffs, is the Lincoln Centre Theatre’s colourful South Pacific, with original director Bartlett Sher at the helm. The Rodgers and Hammerstein tunefest will star Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Emile. 

In a season featuring seven new productions, director Gale Edwards presents Salome with Strauss specialist Cheryl Barker in the title role and John Wegner as Jokanaan, while OA’s creaking, 30-year-old production of Lucia di Lammermoor will be retired in favour of a new version with Emma Matthews headlining.

For more information, view the full program and cast details, and Limelight‘s interview with Lyndon Terracini