Opera, Opera, Opera!

A number of people have been inspired to write about opera for this edition.  Firstly, Marienne Short writes of a wonderful local production of Puccini’s Tosca which she and Pam Lewis enjoyed.

Tosca at the MetTosca was produced by Opera Van Diemansland at the Independent Theatre, North Sydney.  Greg McCreanor, who has sung with us on several occasions and will do so again for our Christmas concert this year, played the comic role of the Sacristan.

Not only did this require a great deal of acting skill, the singing role really enabled Greg to perform brilliantly. There were several stand-out performances – the role of Tosca sung by Anna-Louise Cole and that of the hero Cavaradossi, sung by Martin Buckingham.

The small size of the theatre really suited the production with voices producing the most amazing volume and allowing the audience to become totally absorbed in the rather complex story. Typical Puccini.

Secondly, Naomi Roseth writes of a once-in-a-lifetime experience seeing Il Trovatore at the New York Metropolitan Opera.

For several years now the New York Metropolitan Opera has been screening its opera productions in local cinemas world wide. I have attended those screenings at our local cinema regularly and love them – such fabulous, generous productions. Opera at its best. It has been my dream to one day attend a performance at their elegant Lincoln Centre venue. A few weeks ago my dream came true – big time!

Il Trovatore at the New York MetVerdi’s Il Trovatore was on in the Lincoln Centre during the ten days we spent in New York recently. Any NY Met production is likely to be top class, but on this occasion we had a special treat. The renowned soprano Anna Netrebko sang the role of Leonora; The NY Met veteran, baritone Dmitri Hvrostovsky was Count di Luna. Shortly after buying the tickets I read that Hvrostovsky was diagnosed with cancer and pulled out of the season’s performances. But he changed his mind and decided to do three of the ten performances. And we were lucky to be in one of them. When he entered, the audience erupted in a deafening ovation. People truly expressed gratitude and joy. Ovations during opera performances are not unusual but here was a community of well wishers overjoyed to see and hear that superb singer. Singers usually remain ‘frozen’ while the ovation lasts, but he was clearly moved and grateful.

The whole event was magic – that elegant hall, gorgeous music (never mind about the awful story), top class singers, dynamic conductor (Armaliato) leading a sensitive orchestra. The costumes, the stage design, the lighting – such a buzz; such a beautiful evening.

And as an extra treat we discovered that it was the very show we attended that was televised for cinema screenings. That meant that a few weeks later, back in Sydney, we could re-live the magic. I remain convinced that seeing the details on the screen and hearing the interviews is fascinating. But nothing replaces being there in a live performance. I am unlikely to go again to a New York Met performance but will remain loyal to our wonderful Opera Australia.

Lastly, Richard Griffiths was prompted to ask whether opera is an imperfect art form after seeing a performance of Turandot.

The posing of this question was occasioned by seeing a performance of Turandot this year at the Bregenz Festival. It was in a stunning setting, with the stage built out over Lake Constance and the audience sat in a natural amphitheatre giving everyone an excellent view. The orchestra and chorus were in the festival theatre, the principals had microphones, and the combined music was relayed through an excellent surround sound system. Subtitles (in German!) and views of the musicians were displayed unobtrusively on screens to the side of the stage.

The set for Turandot at Bregenz.

The set for Turandot at Bregenz.

The production was faultless. The drama was at times intimate, at times grand, the appropriate mood being captured perfectly in both music and movement. The story flowed very engagingly. The playing and singing were both accurate and compelling. The sets were imaginative, making the most of the situation and adding to the overall sense of drama.   It was a night to remember.

However, at the end of the evening, I was left with the same feeling of discomfort which I have experienced after seeing other operas. Despite the wonderful singing, acting and staging, the experience did not quite hang together. Why? I think it’s largely to do with the plot. So many operas seem to have unexplained endings (the end of Turandot is a prime example) or discontinuities somewhere in the middle. But then most operas are inspired by a book, and it must be very difficult to represent all that a book contains in up to three hours, which has to include not only the action but also time for reflection.

So maybe opera is intrinsically an imperfect art form. Will that stop me going? Certainly not!