Opera Australia today announced their season for 2014 – a mixture of bold new productions and much-loved classics. Ben Neutze takes a look at the season ahead.
If Opera Australia’s 2014 season is about one thing, it’s bringing opera to the people. While the team at OA hasn’t exactly reinvented the wheel with this season, their choices show a commitment to opera that is absolutely loved by the masses.
There’s a little envelope-pushing here and there, but 2014 features a hell of a lot of the most popular operas of all time, including Carmen, Tosca, Don Giovanni, La Boheme, The Magic Flute, Madama Butterfly and Rigoletto. Heard of most of them? All of them? I thought you might’ve. Sydney gets nine operas (ten if you count The King and I, eleven if you count Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour) and Melbourne only gets seven (eight if you count The King and I). But after The Ring Cycle, the city might be all opera-ed out anyway.
While I was hoping for the return of Benedict Andrews’ bold Marriage of Figaro, a new production of Candide and my favourite Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel (maybe 2015?), this isn’t a season that will leave many disappointed. It looks to be a year in which OA will build on the success of previous years and follow a similar format and attitude, but the program is packed full of highlights. Here are just a few.
La Boheme – Sydney from 31 December 2013
Gale Edwards’ stunning La Boheme is fast becoming one of OA’s most successful productions. I predicted in my review earlier this year that this production will be dragged out every few years, but didn’t exactly expect it to be quite this soon!
This will be the third time it’s seen in Sydney after it premiered in 2011 and the second year in a row that it opens the Sydney summer season.
It’s a sumptuous production, gently updated to 1930s Berlin with a sparkling Spiegeltent set by Brian Thomson. It will again star one of OA’s youngest and fastest rising stars, Nicole Car as Mimi.
The Turk in Italy – Sydney from 22 January and Melbourne from 1 May
This rarely performed Rossini opera will be a ‘must-see’, mainly for the team involved. Director Simon Phillips and designer Gabriela Tylesova again team up after their recent success with Love Never Dies and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead to bring the irreverent comedy to the stage.
The opera parodies the social conventions of the 19th century, but will be set at a 1950s Italian dinner. Onstage, Emma Matthews and Conal Coad star. Matthews is Australia’s finest coloratura soprano and recently wowed audiences in La Traviata. Coad is one of the funniest men in opera, having played the title role in Don Pasquale this year (a role he’ll reprise in Melbourne 2014) and winning laughs as Superintendent Budd in Albert Herring.
Eugene Onegin – Sydney from 28 February and Melbourne from 16 April
This co-production between OA and the Royal Opera of Tchaikovsky’s romantic tragedy premiered at London’s Covent Garden earlier this year. It’s directed by Kasper Holten, the Artistic Director of the Royal Opera and features his characteristic bold approach, with mesmerising video projections.
Nicole Car and Australian tenor James Egglestone star, with a supporting cast including Jacqueline Dark, Kanen Breen and Dominica Matthews.
It’s not seen often in Australia, but Tchaikovsky’s score is a richly varied musical ride.
Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour – Madama Butterfly – Sydney from 21 March
That Madama Butterfly was to be the third act in OA’s series of floating spectaculars is one of the worst kept secrets in the opera world, but when it was announced earlier this week that La Fura dels Baus are behind the production, some serious excitement returned to the project. La Fura dels Baus are known around the world for their massive outdoor productions (seriously, just have a quick search on YouTube and you’ll be a little bit blown away). They brought their unique style to this year’s A Masked Ball, a production that wowed most critics.
Japanese soprano Hiromi Omura returns to star after winning praise for her performance in OA’s 2012 production. Oh, and there’ll be fireworks. It is Sydney, after all.
Opera on the Beach – The Magic Flute – Gold Coast from 9 May
OA is bringing a new production of The Magic Flute directed by Michael Gow to a ‘sand stage’ on Coolangatta Beach, the Gold Coast. The audience will sit on the sand and the set itself will feature sand sculptures and lifesavers.
The production features some of OA’s finest, including Natalie Aroyan and Conal Coad. OA is clearly hoping to attract families and new audiences to the opera with this production and it’s a big part of their drive to reach wider audiences, outside of Sydney and Melbourne. The tickets are very affordable too, ranging from $39 to $79. It won’t be quite on the scale of Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, but there will be fireworks!
The King and I – Brisbane from April, Melbourne from June and Sydney from September
Following the success of the John Frost and OA production of South Pacific, the same team will bring another Rodgers and Hammerstein classic to Australian audiences.
The production first appeared in Australia in 1991 before opening on Broadway in 1996. While in New York it picked up the Tony Award for Best Musical Revival and Richard Rodgers’ daughter, Mary Rodgers declared it the best King and I she’d ever seen. If OA can match their success in South Pacific, they’ll cement their place as a serious player in musical theatre in Australia. A casting announcement is expected in the near future.
Tosca – Melbourne from 12 November
Directed by Australian theatrical legend John Bell, this production sent critics and audiences alike into a spin when it premiered in Sydney earlier this year. Next year it’ll be Melbourne’s turn!
Set in Mussolini’s Rome, it features what is perhaps the most impressive set ever seen on an Opera Australia stage by Michael Scott-Mitchell. The detail in the design is matched only by the detail in John Bell’s masterful direction, which is full of dramatic tension and danger. Georgian soprano Tamar Iveri returns to play the title role after her success with A Masked Ball and Brazilian tenor Thiago Arancam will play Cavaradossi.
Subscriptions are now on sale for Opera Australia’s 2014 season. Full details are available on their new website opera.org.au.