British satire, German Romanticism, and high Italian drama make up this year’s offering from the company.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S Pinafore, Wagner’s Lohengrin, and Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux couldn’t be more different. Touchstones of British satire, German Romanticism, and Italian bel canto, these works are so tonally distinct and of their milieu that the tastes of any seasoned opera goer are catered for. Melbourne Opera director Greg Hocking is adamant that all three pieces in the company’s 2017 season are long overdue for an outing – Melburnians haven’t gotten the chance to see them in their own city for decades, and in Roberto Devereux’s case, ever.
Melbourne Opera’s Tannhäuser.
Marking Melbourne’s first professional production of H.M.S Pinafore in over 20 years, the evergreen send up of the British class system and politics opens the season. Experienced Gilbert and Sullivan director Robert Ray is responsible for the new production, with a cast led by David Gould as Sir Joseph Porter, and Claire Lyon making her Melbourne Opera debut as Josephine. Greg Hocking will be conducting the much loved operetta, which he says is often underestimated. “We’re pleased to be able to do a new production that does the work justice with one of the world’s best Gilbert and Sullivan directors,” he says.
Last performed 25 years ago, Wagner’s tale of the enigmatic knight of the Holy Grail makes a return with Romanian tenor Marius Vlad in the title role. Melbourne soprano Helena Dix, currently covering the role of Elettra in Mozart’s Idomeneo at the Metropolitan Opera, will make her debut as Elsa, while Sarah Sweeting will play the deliciously demented Ortrud. Suzanne Chaundy will be directing this medieval tale of knights, feuding tribes, and swan boats in a new production for Melbourne Opera. On why Lohengrin has been absent from Melbourne stages for so long, Hocking admitted that “while there is a big audience for Wagner operas… you need a cast and a theatre that can transmit the epic scale of these works.” Add to that “a very large chorus” and “a very clever director”, and you may just have a chance of pulling off a work of such proportions.
Melbourne Opera rounds out the year with its third instalment of Donizetti’s Tudor trilogy, Roberto Devereux. Australian soprano Rosamund Illing wears the crown as, according to Hocking, “one of the greatest roles ever written for an experienced diva”, Queen Elizabeth I. Though the title may suggest otherwise, make no mistake – Roberto Devereux is very much a vehicle for a star soprano who has the notes. Famous predecessors are a veritable who’s who of bel canto divas – Joan Sutherland, Leyla Gencer, Monserrat Caballe, and Beverly Sills are just a few sopranos associated with the role. It’s Rosamund Illing’s second assumption of the role, albeit in another part of the trilogy – she first appeared in Maria Stuarda as Elizabeth for MO in 2015. Hocking describes her as “one of Australia’s greatest ever singers”, hailing her performance in Stuarda as “unforgettable”. Suzanne Chaundy returns to direct this quintessential bel canto drama about thwarted love and political machinations.
Asked to explain why this season is special to him, Hocking is straightforward. “I am excited about the variety of repertoire we are offering, the calibre of the international and local artists that we are engaging, and the fact that we do it all without a cent of government subsidy”.
Melbourne Opera opens with H.M.S Pinafore, March 14 – 28