Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The 3rd Annual OperaChaser Awards and Commendations
- 2017 -

Revealed via Twitter @OperaChaser on 27th December 2017 commencing at 5pm
Dromana, Victoria.

Award for Outstanding Production, Melbourne (Independent): Lohengrin, Melbourne Opera
Photo: Robin Halls

Every night of the year, opera takes to the stage and impresses its musical, vocal and emotive force on audiences anywhere from Adelaide to Zurich and Reykjavik to Cape Town, from mega-cities to rural outposts, stages big and small. Annual global audience number the tens of millions and people continue to be drawn to its artistic mystique on both sides of the curtain.

This year I was drawn to 70 diverse opera productions in 14 cities across 4 continents and I'm proud of the exceptional work and standards I see from companies large and small, together with the innovative ways I see from those that strive to connect with a wider audience. Opera is alive and will forever remain so.

The 3rd Annual OperaChaser Awards and Commendations are an opportunity to reflect on the year and are dedicated to all who have contributed in sharing their artistic and creative pursuits by nourishing their audiences with immeasurable and lasting enjoyment.

Thank you to all involved in creating the ephemeral beauty of opera in performance. Again, there is no little ceremony, no trophy and no prize, but I sincerely hope that these awards bring a little pleasure to the deserved artists who bring excellence to the art of opera and all who continue to dig deep into their artistic, dramatic and creative energies.

2017 OperaChaser Awards, Melbourne 

From 30 productions

Outstanding Production
Cavalleria Rusitcana and Pagliacci, Opera Australia

Outstanding Production - Independent
Lohengrin, Melbourne Opera

Outstanding Opera in Concert
La Sonnambula, Victorian Opera

Innovative Opera Company
BK Opera

Outstanding Director
Matthew Lutton
Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets, Victorian Opera

Outstanding Director - Independent
Tyran Parke
The Coronation of Poppea, Melbourne Opera

Outstanding Conductor 
Phoebe Briggs
The Sleeping Beauty, Victorian Opera

Outstanding Conductor - Independent
David Kram
Lohengrin, Melbourne Opera

Outstanding Male in a Lead Role
Diego Torre
Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana and Canio in Pagliacci, Opera Australia

Outstanding Male in a Lead Role - Independent
Marius Vlad
Title role, Lohengrin, Melbourne Opera

Outstanding Female in a Lead Role
Rinat Shaham
Title role, Carmen, Opera Australia

Outstanding Female in a Lead Role - Independent
Helena Dix
Elizabeth I, Roberto Devereux, Melbourne Opera

Outstanding Male in a Supporting Role
Samuel Dundas
Silvio, Pagliacci, Opera Australia

Outstanding Male in a Supporting Role - Independent
Phillip Calcagno
Earl, Roberto Devereux, Melbourne Opera

Outstanding Female in a Supporting Role
Stacey Alleaume
Micaëla, Carmen, Opera Australia

Outstanding Female in a Supporting Role - Independent
Caroline Vercoe
Ottavia, The Coronation of Poppea, Lyric Opera of Melbourne

Outstanding Ensemble
The Sleeping Beauty, Victorian Opera

Outstanding Ensemble - Independent
HMS Pinafore, Melbourne Opera

Outstanding Set Design
Steffen Arfing
King Roger, Opera Australia

Outstanding Set Design - Independent
Dann Barber
The Coronation of Poppea, Lyric Opera of Melbourne

Outstanding Costume Design
Carla Teti
Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, Opera Australia

Outstanding Costume Design - Independent
Lucy Wilkins
Lohengrin, Melbourne Opera

Outstanding Lighting Design
Jon Clark
King Roger, Opera Australia

Outstanding Lighting Design - Independent
Lucy Birkinshaw
Roberto Devereux, Melbourne Opera

Commendation for Outstanding Production, Australia: Cavalleria Rusitcana and Pagliacci, Opera Australia
Photo: Keith Saunders

2017 OperaChaser Commendations, Australia

From 10 productions seen in Sydney and Coolangatta.

Outstanding Production
Cavalleria Rusticana and Paglacci, Opera Australia, Sydney

Outstanding Opera in Concert
Parsifal, Opera Australia, Sydney

Outstanding Director
Damiano Michieletto
Cavalleria Rusticana and Paglacci, Opera Australia, Sydney

Outstanding Conductor
Erin Helyard
Anacréon and Pigmalion, Pinchgut Opera, Sydney

Outstanding Male in a Lead Role
Michael Honeyman
Title role, King Roger, Opera Australia, Sydney

Outstanding Female in a Lead Role
Ermonela Jaho
Violetta, La Traviata, Opera Australia, Sydney

Outstanding Male in a Supporting Role
Kanen Breen
Arnalta, The Coronation of Poppea, Pinchgut Opera, Sydney

Outstanding Female in a Supporting Role
Lauren Zolezzi
Cupid, Anacrèon and Pigmalion, Pinchgut Opera, Sydney

Outstanding Set Design
Paolo Fantin
Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, Opera Australia, Sydney

Outstanding Costume design
Tim Chappel
Two Weddings, One Bride, Opera Australia, Sydney

Outstanding Lighting Design
David Walter
Aida, Opera Australia, Coolangatta Beach

Special Award for New Australian Work
Melba, Hayes Theatre, Sydney

Commendation for Outstanding Production, International: Die Frau ohne Schatten, Staatsoper, Berlin
Photo: Hans Jörg Michel

2017 OperaChaser Commendations, International

From 30 productions seen in 14 cities: Beijing, Singapore, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Amsterdam, Cardiff, Berlin, Munich, Paris, Bologna, Rome, Turin and Dubai.

Outstanding Production
Die Frau ohne Schatten
Staatsoper, Berlin
Outstanding Director
Penny Woolcock
The Pearl Fishers, LA Opera, Los Angeles

Outstanding Conductor
Zubin Mehta
Die Frau ohne Schatten, Staatsoper, Berlin

Outstanding Male in a Lead Role
Ildar Abdrazakov
Title role, Prins Igor, Ductch National Opera, Amsterdam

Outstanding Female in a Lead Role
Stephanie Blythe
Title role, Tancredi, Opera Philadelphia, Philadelphia

Outstanding Male in a Supporting Role
Maurizio Muraro
Dr Bartolo, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Metropolitan Opera, New York

Outstanding Female in a Supporting Role
Agneta Eichenholz
Isabella of France, Edward II, Deutche Oper, Berlin

Outstanding Set Design
Christian Schmidt
Rigoletto, Opéra National de Paris, Paris

Outstanding Costume Design
Elena Zaitseva
Prins Igor, Dutch National Opera, Amsterdam

Outstanding Lighting Design
Ulrich Niepel
Götterdämmerung, Deutche Oper, Berlin

Once again, thank you to all!

^ links to reviews not penned by myself

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The meditative and joyous shine effectively in Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's Messiah: Herald Sun Review

Widely known and performed the world over, Handel's magnificent Messiah (though originally intended to be performed at Easter), has become synonymous with Christmas. Religiously inclined or not, the Messiah symbolises love and its timelessness continues to inform modern society with its voice of hope.

On Saturday evening, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra generously shared the work's affirmative essence, sung to scriptural text arranged by Charles Jennens and given an incisive and graceful interpretation under conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini. Eschewing any hint of pomposity, the meditative and joyous emerged effectively from the comforting regimental punctuated rhythms and underlying exuberance that characterised the musicianship of the near 50 players. Overall, a greater sense of musical breathing and elasticity was achieved in parts two and three.

Embedded is that great swell of glory in the "Hallelujah" chorus that closes the second part. And it soared divinely. As the champions of the stage, numbering 60 and expertly prepared by Warren Trevelyan-Jones, the MSO Chorus impressed with their dexterity and interconnectivity, the sopranos particularly shining with crystal cut class. What was otherwise given an all-important focus on clear diction overall, a light rawness at times, however, came from the male chorus.

Amongst the four strong soloists who added weight to the score's operatic signature, despite variability in projection, two thrilling highlights of the night included the strident and authoritative opening from muscular and youthful-voiced British tenor Ed Lyon with "Ev'ry valley" and an enriched and profoundly affecting "He was despised" from the brooding and velvety mezzo-soprano Joslyn Rechter. Lyon especially appeared assured and consistent throughout, the later "Thou shalt break them" delivered with suave soldierly urgency.

Starry bright soprano Sara Macliver put to eerily appropriate use her porcelain-fine top range in "Rejoice greatly" and Italian bass Salvo Vitale brought rich and succulent vigour to his "Thus saith the Lord" but rather let sag the regality and depth of “The trumpet shall sound”.

Just to add, without pointing the finger, soloists looking fully engaged with the moment when not singing assist greatly in creating a more visually satisfying experience. A small quibble because by the time the chorus sang the mighty closing “Worthy is the Lamb” and final tidal "Amen" the ebullience etched itself majestically, making an approaching Christmas so much more potent than all the tinsel and baubles decorating the city.

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
9th & 10th December
3.5 stars

Saturday, December 2, 2017

A strong and committed cast but Pinchgut Opera's reimagined The Coronation of Poppea misses its potential.

Making opera contemporarily relevant is at the forefront of pretty much any opera company today wishing to promote and vivify the art form. More easily able than many, Claudio Monteverdi's final opera, The Coronation of Poppea - premiered some 375 years ago - remains acutely relevant today and survives as a potent example of drama that simmers, boils, confronts and intrigues in its story of lust for power, sexual obsessions and ruthless dominance. In Pinchgut Opera's new production directed by Mark Gaal, wonderfully sung and boldly conceived as it is, attempts to reimagine the story's ancient Rome setting in a modern day context don't, however, always pay off so convincingly.

Helen Sherman and Jake Arditti
Power struggles, manipulative tactics and corruption exist in all spheres and levels of society but Gaal's interpretation creates an unpalatable friction and raises question marks over Giovanni Busenello's libretto - sung in Italian and surtitled in an eloquent English translation at odds with what is seen on stage.

Monteverdi's work is a sensational account of the Roman emperor Nero’s (Jake Arditti) abuse of position and blind pursuit of love for his mistress Poppea (Helen Sherman). Poppea's ambitions of power aggravate the Empress Ottavia (Natalie Christie Peluso) who is gravely aware of the vulnerable position she is in and who counteracts with a scheme to have Poppea disposed of. Woven through, the goddesses of Fortune, Virtue and Love, vie for supremacy.

Here, a mighty hip and bleached-haired Nero takes on the aura of a teen pop star mixed up in a life of sex, drugs and violence. Surrounded by his hoodlum mates who roam the confines of a stark, often coldly lit, concreted world (sets by Charles Davis and lighting by Ross Graham), it seems a confused take on the work's adaptational potential.

As Nero, Jake Arditti exhibits much colour and lightning flashes of dynamism with his rich and lively countertenor. And there's much happening to excite him in the process. Soon after Nero makes his entrance with a hooker-like, dangerous-looking Poppea, he knocks down a man, who Poppea straddles, then crawls across him seductively to remove his belt from under Poppea's loins. Later, partying and cocaine-fixed after ordering the death of his philosophising adviser Seneca, Nero is pleasurably sucked off by one of his men during which I don't recall what the music was doing. Gaal certainly highlights Nero's salacious pleasures yet Nero doesn't cut the figure of authority as the Roman emperor in the text reads.

Natalie Christie Peluso
The luscious, full-bodied mezzo-soprano of Helen Sherman gives a striking, attractively hued and phrased voice to Poppea. What begins as a grungy windowless world oddly becomes a glitzy fashionable one by end with Poppea making a surprise transformation into what looked like a celebrity model for a pageant coronation. Sherman stepped into the limelight radiantly for the opera's final melting duet with Arditti - "Pur ti miro/Pur ti godo" - in their only tender and restrained encounter without groping each other and, while doing so, paired lusciously in voice. Nero had secured his beauty and Poppea her position, precarious as that would be.

Perhaps if the libretto was completely reworked to reflect the characters portrayed, a more easy coexistence of drama, setting and text would have resulted. In this setting, I was seeing one possibility taking a topical Weinstein-like approach concerning alleged abuse of power and women which life is never short of.

Thankfully, Arditti and Sherman are part of a strong and committed cast that provide the propulsion needed. Smouldering baritone David Greco's vocal heft makes a notably firm standout as Seneca with his inviting and authoritative performance and ornamental touches that waft in precisely placed curls. Excitingly animated tenor Kanen Breen - indisputably shaping up as one of Australia's hottest theatrical talents - struts with towering height, form and delectable knowingness and confidence as a transvestite Arnalta, Poppea's subordinate and confidante.

Natalie Christie Peluso is another solid link as she spectacularly delineates the two widely contrasting roles - the venomous and vengeful Ottavia and more reserved, alarmingly naive Drusilla - to which her dark and expressively charged soprano she employs for Ottavia is brightened and softened as she portrays Drusilla. Countertenor Owen Willetts comfortably conveyed the passions and turns of the swooning Ottone who is in love with Ottavia in leaps of rich and fleshy warmth.

Kanen Breen as Arnalta
In the twin smaller roles as Seneca's friend Famigliari III (likely a little more than a friend) and Tribuno, bass baritone Jeremy Kleeman's resonating and firm vocal presence are an ear-catching luxury, as is Roberta Diamond's delightfully sweet soprano that emanates from her fallen-on-hard-times Amore as she follows love's triumph when least it is deserved and highlighting how love doesn't always behave.

The Orchestra of the Antipodes didn't carry through with the force and conviction of their usual breathtakingly layered textures on opening night. A few misses didn't escape notice, including some late shaky trumpeting, but the several open orchestral passages were consistently realised in top form. Conducting from harpsichord, overall, Artistic Director Erin Helyard's mixed and effective tempi provided ongoing momentum, more so in the second part but I couldn't help but feel that the music often seemed overtaken by an indulgent interpretation that attempts to make the story's relevance feel real but, instead, strangled it in theatrical melange.

The Coronation of Poppea
Pinchgut Opera
City Recital Hall, Sydney
Until 6th December.

Production photos: Brett Boardman