Sunday, August 17, 2008

OA 2009

It’s that time of year when the next season analysts deconstruct it all. It is like most of their seasons, a wide mix, a valid attempt I suppose to try to please most of the people most of the time.

The difficulties are pretty extreme. Apart from the usual nightmares of programming for any company, anywhere, Opera Australia has its own special problems. They are woefully under funded, relying more than most on box office, and a box-office in Sydney that is tied to a (SOH) theatre with low seat capacity, and therefore low returns per performance. As long as it is the building and not the performance that fills the house (Sydney fills, Melbourne doesn’t), they’re stuck, low seat/performance ratio, crappy small pit, bad acoustic, inadequate stage size and facility etc. Joan Sutherland said she didn’t like singing there as she felt she was only singing to the front few rows. She was right, she was.

Then to all this add the usual, but meaningful cliché, the great tyranny of distance. It may preserve what is one, if not the, last ensemble companies on the world, but it is still a big hurdle in both directions.

So we get bums-on-seats shows with long runs (My Fair Lady, G & S), popular classics (Butterfly, Aida), and still manage a good dose of baroque and 20thC, and something in between. But no Wagner, no Strauss. The ideal theatre in Sydney at the moment for big opera is the Capitol. From the SMH 2003, Bryce Hallett, in discussion with Simone Young, then doing Mastersingers there, noted:

“As demonstrated in 2000 during Opera Australia's Elektra season at the Capitol, the sound from the orchestra pit left no doubt as to why the Opera Theatre must close in 2006 for its pit to be enlarged and the acoustics improved. "It's fantastic to see these happy chappies [the musicians] in the pit," Young said yesterday. "There's room to move and we have the proper size orchestra. I flatly refused to perform Wagner in the Opera Theatre pit and the singers and musicians have found being at the Capitol a rewarding experience. The sound being made is extremely close to the pit in Munich where Wagner's opera was first heard in 1868." “

The Elektra, with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Deborah Polaski, was, by the way, a box-office and critical success. They were great times, 2000, Olympics on the way, nothing beyond us. Only 8 years ago. We are now in the incongruous situation with a Federal government reaping huge export revenues, a hopelessly inept and financially strapped NSW State Government struggling with the basics of transport and education, lean times at the household level, and a country facing basic infrastructure flaws like power and water supplies.

No one is likely to throw a billion dollars at the SOH to fix up the Opera Theatre any time soon, despite the fact that it would do for this city and country exactly what the building itself did all those years ago. Get the lottery going, with gambling money going somewhere useful instead of the pockets of a few. In the meantime, can’t we manage just one major work a year in the Capitol. Get the Adelaide Ring up here even. One a year, then away we go. Sydney needs it, badly.

Back to OA 2009. I was interested in how much Mr Hickox was up for:
Werther (Sydney) 6 performances
Peter Grimes (Sydney) 4
Radiance (hello marketing people…look at me) Concert (Sydney) 1
Cosi (Sydney) 9
Flute (Melbourne) 4
Lady M (Sydney) 7

That’s 31, with 4 in Melbourne.

Anyone who knows me (that's K, the dogs, and the big eucalypt outside the bedroom window) will know that I am particularly interested in:

The R (I can’t bring myself to say it twice) Concert
The Four Last Songs (Barker) and the Rossini (sans Grigolo, thankfully) but the Pines of Rome?

Peter Grimes
Everything, both conductors (Hickox and Andrew Greene), Stuart Skelton (based now in Florida I hear), Peter C-W (so strong in the Death in Venice), Susan Gritton, Elizabeth Campbell, but most of all (marble halls) Neil Armfield.

Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk
Zambello nails it this time, Susan Bollock (at last) & Wegner is a fine character performer (Daniel Sumegi in Melbourne)

Jim Sharman for anything and everything.