|The Opera Australia Dancers strut their stuff in a Can-Can line at the 2013 Season Launch.|
Taking a stroll around Opera Australia’s Sydney headquarters in Surry Hills while waiting for artistic director Lyndon Terracini to arrive, it’s impossible not to notice that the place is abuzz. Musicians bearing instruments hurry along corridors; behind coaching room doors voices are learning roles; the smell of sets being painted wafts in from somewhere; and downstairs in the administrative section a small army of support staff are working phones and computers to help bring massive new projects to fruition.
A staff member laughs when asked if things have been a little frantic of late. ‘We’ve pretty much accepted that they’re not going to get any less frantic,’ he says. ‘Why would Lyndon stop with HOSH or the Ring cycle?’
|Lyndon Terracini speaks at |
the 2013 Season Launch
2012 was OA’s year of living dangerously. If families flocked to Julie Taymor’s enchanting production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, not all aficionados were happy with cuts to Mozart’s score. The inaugural season of Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour (HOSH), an $11 million outdoor production of Verdi’s La Traviata set against the backdrop of Sydney Harbour, delighted absolutely everyone, but could have been ruined by the weather. And this winter, an acclaimed Lincoln Center Theater production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific opened with a standing ovation at the Sydney Opera House, then performed strongly at the box office. Even if strictly speaking it wasn’t opera.
It’s fair to say that Opera Australia has taken risks, and that they’ve paid off. Judging by the 2013 season, unveiled at the Sydney Opera House this month, even bolder initiatives are waiting to be realised next year. In his office at the Opera Centre, Lyndon Terracini – casual in a funky haircut and his signature winter scarf – pulls a frightened face when asked about all this risky business. ‘Sometimes I get nervous about making big announcements!’ he grins. But long and solid experience in arts management has given him the confidence to believe in his decisions. ‘Everything we do at OA, we do for a reason,’ he says.
In designing the 2013 program, Terracini and his team were guided by the Company’s oft stated aim of using innovative programming to appeal to as broad as possible an audience. As he puts it: ‘Opera Australia has several different audiences and if we are to survive, we have to play to all of them.’
|Teddy Tahu Rhodes returns as |
Emile de Becque in South Pacific in 2013
In 2013 the Company continues to broaden its audience through its community choirs project, an ongoing commitment to telling Indigenous Australians’ stories, and a revival of South Pacific. At the same time, buffs are being treated to one of the biggest years in Australian operatic history. The 2013 season opens on New Year’s Eve, with a revival of Gale Edwards’ acclaimed 2011 production of Puccini’s La bohème. Terracini says: ‘What better way to open the season than with the buzz and excitement of New Year’s Eve? People who fly in from overseas to enjoy the fireworks will now be able to choose between the La bohème Gala or the Opera Gala, and top that with a midnight party and fireworks.’
In January a Verdi Festival opens in Sydney, featuring revivals of Elke Neidhardt’s Il trovatore and Simon Phillips’ Falstaff productions, and the world première of maverick Catalan company La Fura dels Baus’ new production of A Masked Ball. Directed by Alex Ollé, the production, co-produced by four international opera companies, marks the first time that OA is staging the world première of an international collaboration. Co-productions with three/four major international houses will be a cornerstone of future programs, says Terracini.
Bookending the other end of 2013 is the Melbourne Ring cycle, directed by Neil Armfield. More than a year before opening night, tickets have all but sold out. Terracini cites several reasons for this: ‘We chose our time wisely – next year is the Wagner bicentenary and there is a lot of international interest in Ring cycles. It is also Opera Australia’s first cycle, which has generated a lot of local interest. And we offer a cast of singers whom our audience trusts and admires.’
Between the Verdi and Wagner fests, 2013 highlights include a revival of John Cox’s 1976 production of Britten’s Albert Herring, a new production of The Force of Destiny directed by Tama Matheson, and a new production of Puccini’s Tosca directed by John Bell.
|José Carbó, Warwick Fyfe,|
Milijana Nikolic and Shane Lowrencev
at the 2013 Season Launch.
Terracini, who carefully matches directors and operas, says: ‘Tosca is the drama of Tosca, Scarpia and Cavaradossi, and you need three excellent singing actors to bring that drama to life. John Bell, with his long history as a theatre director, is ideal for such a production.’ Likewise, Neil Armfield’s talent for presenting a clear narrative selected him as Ring director. ‘I was looking for a great storyteller because some Ring directors lose the thread of the story,’ Terracini says.
A hands-on manager, he does not shy away from asking a director to compromise if he feels that a particular vision will not resonate with the OA audience. And recently he asked a designer to redesign a production three times.
Populating the 2013 season is the largest number of international artists that OA has contracted to date. To name but a few, Gianluca Terranova, Alfredo in the 2012 HOSH Traviata, returns as Rodolfo in La bohème, Takesha Meshé Kizart, who has wowed Australian audiences as Tosca and Mimì, returns to star in John Bell’s new Tosca production, and Ji-Min Park, who moved audiences as Rodolfo in La bohème, returns as Ernesto in Roger Hodgman’s new production of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.
|Warwick Fyfe sings the title role |
of Falstaff in 2013
At the same time, several Australian singers are making career-defining role debuts. Warwick Fyfe, who made a huge impact as Germont in the HOSH La Traviata earlier this year, tackles Falstaff; José Carbó sings his first Verdi roles as Count Anckarstroem in A Masked Ball and Germont in La Traviata; Nicole Car makes her Sydney debut as Mimi in Bohème, and Natalie Aroyan makes her OA debut in the same role.
In terms of creative teams, collaborations and casting, the 2013 season has a strong international flavour. Says Terracini: ‘By commissioning co-productions with international companies, then playing them in Brussels, Oslo and Buenos Aires, Australian singers get to be part of a company that is highly regarded around the world, and hopefully an opportunity to travel overseas with some of the productions that we are developing. And when our European partners are here and see our artists performing, they may well want to engage some of our singers.’
As for engaging increasing numbers of overseas singers: ‘To play to international standards, OA has to operate in the way that international houses do. That means getting top performers for roles, irrespective of nationality. Our audiences pay a high price for a ticket; it’s our responsibility to make sure that they see the best possible performance.’
Terracini believes that a good season is balanced: serious as well as light, local and international, Sydney and Melbourne according to each city’s character. ‘We don’t just put on Trovatore because we feel like doing it. We schedule it because it’s part of the Verdi festival which also features A Masked Ball and Falstaff. We bring back South Pacific because it’s been phenomenally popular, but also because it resonates with our community programs and provides a counterpoint to the heavyweight productions of Verdi and Wagner.’
2013 offers opera lovers a bold and exciting program, and with HOSH (a spectacular new Carmen production directed by Gale Edwards is going on the Harbour next year) having proven itself a success story and the Melbourne Ring all but sold out, the risk of failure seems more remote than it did a year ago. Does this mean that Opera Australia has survived the global financial crisis? Terracini is cautiously optimistic. ‘We’ve had to fundamentally rethink our programming to draw new audiences. We’ve taken some risks, had some luck, and the end result is that we are now selling many more tickets than before the GFC. Our budget has gone up by $30 million to around $100 million in the past year, and the percentage of that coming from public funding has shrunk – we’ve managed with the help of donors, sponsors and the box office.’
‘We’ve worked very, very hard and we’ve had some luck. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.’