Opera Australia has launched a free online streaming service called OA | TV: Opera Australia on Demand.

It’s something that OA Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini has been keen to develop for some time. When the company found itself unable to perform live because of the COVID-19 restrictions, the challenging situation proved to be the spur to make a digital program happen.

Dame Joan Sutherland in Lucia di Lammermoor (1980). Photograph © Branco Gaica/Opera Australia archives

OA | TV will feature exclusive content from its back catalogue, which includes the world’s most comprehensive collection of performances on video by Dame Joan Sutherland. It will also stream the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour productions.

On top of that there will be a new series of chat show-style interviews called In Conversation with Lyndon Terracini, in which the OA AD will talk with singers, instrumentalists, directors, conductors, designers and technical staff. The interviews will be recorded in the Joan Sutherland Studio at the Opera Centre in Sydney. “It’s now our TV studio,” says Terracini.

New content will be added to OA | TV each week, while the content already posted will continue to be available on demand.

The platform launches today with the 1988 OA production of Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow starring Dame Joan Sutherland as Hanna Glawari, and the inaugural Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour (HOSH) production of La Traviata from 2012, starring Emma Matthews as Violetta.

Had it not been for the coronavirus, audiences would have been about to see the HOSH production of La Traviata live in March/April this year, revived with Stacey Alleaume as Violetta.

The first instalment of In Conversation with Lyndon Terracini features OA Concertmaster Jun Yi Ma, who will discuss his fascinating life story, which saw him being picked for specialist violin studies at the Shanghai Conservatorium at age six, and performing for President Reagan at the White House when he was 12. In 2002, he was appointed Concertmaster of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra before being enticed by Terracini to join OA.

Launching OA | TV, Terracini said: “Understandably it’s been devastating for everyone at the company not being able to perform through this crisis, and we know our fans are missing us as much as we’re missing being on stage.”

“We’ve actually been wanting to launch OA | TV for some time, and now we have the right digital platform and the time to develop it, so we can share not only our rich history with our fans, but also it’s an opportunity for them to meet some of our incredibly talented artists as well as some of the key people working behind the scenes, with a series of interviews we’re going to do.”

Speaking to Limelight, Terracini says: “I’ve said for ages that Opera Australia should have its own television station, which is a loose and broad way of talking about a digital platform really. But everyone told me it was too expensive, and it was this and it was that. So now we’ve had a bit of time and we have figured out that we can do it.”

Terracini says he didn’t just want to be “whacking up films and streaming”. Hence the inclusion of In Conversation with Lyndon Terracini, which he compares to Michael Parkinson’s television interviews.

Jun Yi Ma In Conversation with Lyndon Terracini. Photograph © Opera Australia

“The first one I did was Jun Yi Ma, the concertmaster, who has the most incredible story, and then when we finish the interview he plays the Meditation from Thaïs, wonderfully,” says Terracini.

“Next week I’ll interview [tenor] Diego Torre and he’ll sing something – not an operatic aria. It’s more about getting to know them as human beings, as artists, and them singing something that you wouldn’t expect them to do. Natalie Aroyan will do an Armenian song, for example. I’ll chat to her and to Chen Shi-Zheng, the director of the Ring, who has had the most astonishing life story, and he is going to sing an aria from one of the operas that he sang when he was the lead singer in the Chinese Opera in Beijing. So it’s that sort of thing. Ideally once COVID-19 is finished, we’ll be able to continue doing it because it will have a context and relate to other things that we are doing.”

Terracini is also conducting interviews with artists to accompany the operas being streamed. “The first opera we will stream is Traviata from the Sydney Harbour stage in 2012 so I interviewed Emma Matthews from Perth, Jonathan Summer [who played Germont] from London and [conductor] Brian Castles-Onion in the Southern Highlands, all via Zoom.”

“I’ll never do that again!” adds Terracini with a laugh. “They were great, they were terrific, but it’s not like just sitting down and talking to someone. It’s difficult, I find, to get the right feeling, [even though] they were fantastic.” He will also interview director Francesca Zambello and set designer Brian Thomson.

The operas featuring La Stupenda will provide a backbone for the launch of OA | TV. “We have got a whole Sutherland catalogue that we are digitising at the moment, so we will run all of those,” says Terracini. “I went through a dozen the other day and there are still more to go so we will alternate those with other things.”

The streaming platform will also include a category called The Best of Dame Joan Sutherland, featuring a collection of her most famous arias. “So there’s the mad scene from Lucia, there’s the Bell Song from Lakmé, so if people want to they can just click onto that and hear the mad scene if they don’t want to see the whole opera. And there is the concert she did with Marilyn Horne and Pavarotti and stuff like that that I think people will be interested to see,” says Terracini.

Other operas to be streamed include Un Ballo in Maschera, staged by OA with Catalan company La Fura dels Baus, which Terracini says the company filmed but couldn’t find a distributor for.

Streaming content on OA | TV is free at the moment, which Terracini believes is important “for people to get to know us”. Eventually, when the company is performing live again, it will probably be something that people will be asked to subscribe to. “If people see it, and if they like it, then we will add it to their subscription, so when they take out a subscription to Opera Australia, they can also take out a subscription to OA | TV,” he says.

Terracini remains optimistic that OA will be back on stage performing live this year, and says that he is “absolutely planning” for the Ring Cycle to go ahead at QPAC in Brisbane as scheduled, from November 10 to December 5.

“Obviously we have got a number of different scenarios depending on what might happen, but Queensland is in a pretty good state, they are opening up things a little quicker, certainly than Victoria,” he says. “We don’t start the shows until November so I am feeling good about that.”

 OA | TV: Opera Australia on Demand