Opera takes a turn outdoors for 2022

Tony MagnussonAAP
Opera Australia will present some familiar favourites, Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini says.
Camera IconOpera Australia will present some familiar favourites, Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini says. Credit: AAP

With both summer and the easing of restrictions imminent, thoughts are turning to what cultural life might look like in a COVID-normal world.

As far as Opera Australia's Lyndon Terracini is concerned, the future will be increasingly outdoors.

"There will be more open-air shows of every type, every genre, around the world," the opera chief said as the company launched its 2022 season this week.

Anticipating such a demand, the company is doubling its outdoor offering for Sydney audiences.

In addition to Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour in March - this time round it's a sleek new take on perennial favourite, The Phantom of the Opera - the company will mount an edgy production of Bizet's Carmen on Cockatoo Island next November.

"People feel safer when they're outside," Terracini said.

"The seating at Cockatoo Island won't be fixed and the bar will be outside too, so if someone feels uncomfortable, they can move."

Promising a show that transcends the limitations of a proscenium stage to utilise the surrounding industrial environment, Terracini said the highly mobile affair would feature plenty of spectacle.

"Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour is also a big spectacle but it's fairly static, whereas Carmen will have trucks full of smugglers driving through and shooting at the bikies chasing them," he revealed.

After enduring a brutal year characterised more by cancellations than show-stopping arias, the nation's largest arts employer has set its sights on a sunnier 2022.

The company's Sydney and Melbourne seasons intersperse crowd-pleasing classics - call it 'opera comfort food' - with Australian premieres of high-calibre works.

"Many people will want to feel as though they are going to see an old friend," Terracini observed. "So we've programmed La Boheme, Turandot, The Marriage of Figaro and La Traviata."

But he's also expecting an appetite, particularly among younger audiences, for operas that haven't been staged here before.

In Sydney, Halevy's 1835 opera La Juive (The Jewess) is being presented in a new co-production with the esteemed Opera de Lyon, directed by Olivier Py, who has set the doomed love story in 1930s France.

"The lead character is a Jewish woman who can't marry a Christian man and it's a work with a message of religious tolerance, which is pretty relevant to our time," Terracini said.

Co-productions are handy because, from the get-go, the set can be designed to fit on stage in both the Sydney Opera House and the Arts Centre in Melbourne.

"Whereas if you hire a show in, the set virtually has to be rebuilt," Terracini said.

The opera will be performed by an all-Australian cast including Diego Torre, Natalie Aroyan, Esther Song and Shanul Sharma, with Italian maestro Carlo Montanaro conducting.

"It's a big, romantic opera and difficult to do, so you need people who can really sing," Terracini said.

"We've developed each of these performers over the past 10 years and they are all now at the stage where they can handle it."

Meanwhile, Melbourne audiences will be treated to Italian bass superstar Ferruccio Furlanetto in a concert staging of Boito's 1868 opera Mefistofele, based on the legend of Faust.

Another Australian premiere, the devilish production also features American soprano Leah Crocetto, who performed Aida in Melbourne and Sydney to praiseworthy reviews earlier this year, alongside Torre and Aroyan.

As an added bonus for Melburnians, Furlanetto will also perform in concert recital for one night only.

"This will be a summation of his 50-year career," Terracini said of the renowned singer.

"He'll do Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death and some Brahms Lieder but he'll also perform arias from operas in which he's had phenomenal success, going all the way back to when he started doing Figaro with the legendary German conductor, Herbert von Karajan.

"Ferruccio was the first non-Russian to sing Mussorgsky's opera Boris Godunov in Russia," he added.

Capitalising on the success of this year's high-tech Aida (Melbourne got the full run, Sydney enjoyed just one performance before lockdown), the company is presenting another digitally staged opera in Sydney with Verdi's Il Trovatore.

"This is a new production by Italian director and choreographer Davide Livermore, who did Aida for us, and by digital we mean a live, in-theatre performance but with a fully digital and integrated stage set comprising giant LED screens and projections," Terracini said.

"Because Il Trovatore's story is so crazy - it's all gypsies, witchcraft and murder - you simply can't have a literal production of it, so having these digital tools gives you a lot more scope to make sense of the piece.

"Digital productions really are the way of the future."

Other Sydney highlights include Donizetti's bel canto opera Maria Stuarda in concert with much-in-demand Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko, while Melburnians will be treated to a new co-production of Wagner's Lohengrin with Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, also directed by Py.

And if too much Phantom is never enough, there will be in-theatre seasons of Cameron Mackintosh's classic production of The Phantom of the Opera in both Sydney and Melbourne.

The travails of the past two years have exerted significant burdens on Opera Australia, which took $73.6 million at the box office in 2019 and $10.6 million last year.

Terracini said Opera Australia had managed to weather the storm in large part by selling its warehouse in Sydney's Alexandria for $46 million.

The federal government also stepped in to provide $10 million in emergency funding.

"And we've had wonderful support from our subscribers and patrons," he said.

Nevertheless, it has been a very bumpy ride.

"I committed to keeping all staff on until the end of this year and that means a salary bill of a million dollars a week," Terracini said.

"Frankly, if lockdowns went on past the end of this year, I honestly don't know what we would do."

After all the disruption, Terracini said the company and its performers are raring to go and he believed audiences are too.

"Everyone is feeling, enough's enough, we have to learn to live with COVID and have a life again.

"We can see other countries around the world doing that and people are accepting that this is what our lives are going to be like."

For tickets and further information, visit opera.org.au

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