Victorian Opera has launched its 2020 season – the company’s 15th, and its second since it acquired Major Performing Arts company status – with a hugely eclectic range of work, albeit with only a handful of pieces that would traditionally qualify as ‘opera’. For those of a more conservative bent the highlights will undoubtedly be two grisly German blockbusters: Richard Strauss’s inevitably gory Salome and Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s feverish Die Tote Stadt. For those of an adventurous frame of mind, The Who’s Tommy – the work that came to define the term “rock opera” – will likely be a must see. Major artists include Australian conductor Simone Young, German soprano Marlis Petersen and popular singer Katie Noonan.
Salome. All images supplied
“2020 offers portals into fantastic worlds of myth and legend that only the unique union of music and poetry, a union which gives life to the art form of opera, can fully explore,” says VO Artistic Director Richard Mills. “As part of our proud long-term commitment to new Australian work, we tell stories of our own time by celebrating contemporary composers with an adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s classic short stories Three Tales and revisit Margaret Fulton: The Musical.”
Mills himself will conduct Cameron Menzies’s staging of Salome in February with a cast led by Lithuanian soprano Vida Miknevičiūtė, veteran English tenor Ian Storey as the lustful, paranoid King Herod, Liane Keegan as his scheming wife, and Australian bass-baritone Daniel Sumegi as John the Baptist – a role he has performed abroad to excellent notices.
For Flaubert’s Three Tales in July, three Australian composers have been invited to create new ‘operatic works’ to words by Australian playwright Daniel Keene. Jazz saxophonist Zac Hurren and singer-songwriter Katie Noonan will perform A Simple Heart, the heart-warming story of a devoted maid. Dermot Tutty will realise the more philosophically inclined The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitaller, while Stefan Cassomenos and new music ensemble Plexus will offer an unusual take on the Salome story with a reworking of Flaubert’s Herodias. “Three wonderful Australian composers, three stories of bizarre theatricality rendered by a great Australian playwright, and an ensemble whose name is now synonymous with uncompromising sonic adventure and commitment to what is new and revelatory,” is how Mills puts it.
In August, VO will return to the Palais Theatre for six performances of Tommy, the award-winning stage musical based on The Who’s legendary 1969 “rock opera” about an abused deaf, dumb and blind teenager whose skill as a pinball wizard leads him from sex, drugs and rock and roll to fame, celebrity, and cult status. Roger Hodgman directs, though the cast has yet to be announced.
Perhaps the most exciting offering for 2020 will be a single concert performance of Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City), the work that catapulted the 24-year-old Korngold to international fame and fortune. A torrid tale of a bereaved man who thinks he has found his reincarnated wife only to wind up strangling her in a jealous fever dream (or does he?), the performance will feature the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) Orchestra conducted by Simone Young with acclaimed German soprano Marlis Petersen making her company debut as the flighty Marietta and German tenor Michael Schade as the gloomy Paul. Samuel Dundas, Carlos E. Bárcenas, Kathryn Radcliffe and the Australian Boys Choir are among the massive forces required in what Mills describes as “one of the most remarkable operas by a composer who was held by his Viennese contemporaries as second only to Mozart in technical facility and raw talent.”
Die Tote Stadt
A pair of musical biographies about equally remarkable but entirely different 20th-century female icons will bring to life the stories of stratospheric Peruvian songbird Yma Sumac and Australian super-cook Margaret Fulton. Ali McGregor, who won a 2019 Helpmann Award for Best Cabaret Artist, reprises her show about Sumac, a singer with a unique voice and a notoriously invented backstory. By way of contrast, Margaret Fulton: The Musical celebrates a more down-to-earth figure in the form of Australia’s popular culinary queen.
VO also continues its commitment to younger audiences with a “family opera”, a “youth opera” and its Baby Bilby Sings program for toddlers. June will bring a version of Massenet’s Cendrillon (the French composer’s charming take on the Cinderella story), and as part of its innovative Access All Areas: Livestream Program students will be able to go behind the scenes in a series of interactive online workshops before experience the opera in the theatre or alternatively livestreamed into the classroom. The annual youth opera will see performances of Schubert’s amiable and rarely staged Die Freunde von Salamanka (The Friends of Salamanca).
With a series of talks including soprano Greta Bradman and conductor, composer and company AD Richard Mills, as well as cabaret evenings, social singing nights, and even an opera trivia night, VO really does look like it has something for everybody in 2020.
Victorian Opera subscriptions are available from 8pm on September 3 for current subscribers and from September 18 to everyone else. Single tickets will go on sale from October 9.