The summer season for Opera Australia is almost in full swing. MADAME BUTTERFLY has already opened, and CARMEN is due to open on Saturday. It would be a good time to make some comments on the planned season. the season consists of four operas, MADAM BUTTERFLY, CARMEN, THE BARBER OF SEVILLE and Handel’s rarely performed comic opera PARTENOPE. this is a reduced number of operas compared to previous years where five or even six operas have been staged during the summer season, and is the start of a number of changes to the programming of operas by Opera Australia under the leadership of its artistic director, Lyndon Terracini . Mr Terracini has recognised that the period of the summer season needs to cater for Sydneysiders on holidays and international tourists, compete with the Sydney Festival for the tourist dollar, and needs to reflect the relaxed mood of the season. Accordingly, popular and easily digestible operas are the order of the day. Darker and less well-known works are now to be scheduled during the winter season. PARTENOPE seems to be the odd one out in this collection of popular warhorses.
Opera Australia is staring a $1 million deficit on the 2010 season in the face, and the economic climate is one where discretionary spending for opera, theatre and film is reduced. The perceived solution is to schedule quality performances of the really popular works that put bums on seats, and add an international star in each of them to further snare potential audiences. It is a strategy that has worked in the past. It will also allow local audiences to see some top international artists, probably the only reason for regular Sydney operagoers to revisit these works. The other advantages are the effect on our local singers performing with their stellar colleagues from overseas, and the direct comparison of our local artists with imports creating a litmus test for the current state of the quality of OA. The imports for the Summer Season are Patricia Racette (MADAME BUTTERFLY), Rinat Shaham (CARMEN), Giorgio Caodura (BARBER OF SEVILLE), and for an unfortunately ill Julian Gavin, his American replacement, Richard Troxell (CARMEN).
What of future Summer Seasons ? There is a limit to the cheap and cheerful operas that fit the above criteria for the Summer Season. LA BOHEME, TOSCA, MAGIC FLUTE, HANSEL AND GRETEL AND LA TRAVIATA come to mind, but there is a limit to the number of operas that are a sure fire money maker.
Lyndon Terracini and Opera Australia will be shaking up the traditional seasons of opera to their foundations further from 2012, with shortened seasons separated by a season of a single opera to be presented on a purpose built 40 metre stage and seating for 3,000 people with the Opera House and Bridge as backdrops. Think Bregenz-style spectacular, with the same sort of technology and the orchestra in a room under the stage. The performances will run nightly through March and April. The first floating opera will be a new production of La Traviata starring Emma Matthews leading the first of two casts in a production directed by Francesco Zambello.
I have my own severe reservations concerning this highly commercial undertaking. Questions yet to be answered are who is paying for the large stage to be built which will be attached to the sea bed under Farm Cove ? What type of seating will be available for audiences? Will the “floating stage” that is actually attached to the sea floor be a permanent fixture (as well as the seating) in Farm Cove? Have consequences to the environment been considered? What will be the quality of the performances when they are miked? Is Sydney getting a second rate experience of opera for the sake of cultivating the tourist market? Are scarce resources for opera being unnecessarily diverted for a second rate experience? Will opera continue in the Opera Theatre while these performances are occurring? If performances are stretched into April will this impact on the Melbourne Opera Season or affect the use of the orchestra for the Australian Ballet Season ? No doubt all will be revealed later this year.