The annual free event Opera in the Bowl, held at Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl, this year offered up some world-class entertainment. Featuring soprano Eva Kong, mezzo-soprano Anna Dowsley, baritone Luke Gabbedy, and tenor superstar Diego Torre, this year’s free outdoor concert showed off some of Opera Australia’s best. Accompanied by the exquisite Orchestra Victoria and the always impressive Opera Australia chorus, the audience was treated to many favourites from the classical repertoire.
The atmosphere was friendly and welcoming – laid-back for an opera event – a perfect tone and setting for the families enjoying a picnic on the lawn above the stalls and under the stars. Apart from a few off-colour comments from the emcee, the entire evening was exceptionally enjoyable, perhaps the best free event of its kind on offer for discerning fans of classical music. The remarkable artists who interpreted the pieces brought their great joy and passion to the bowl, setting the stage alight with their electric performances.
Firstly, the Opera Australia Chorus should be commended on their powerful, exhilarating sound – they never disappoint. As for the soloists, Eva Kong’s metallic, stratospheric high notes delighted, and Anna Dowsley’s flexible voice proved impressive. Dowsley’s appearance as Tebaldo in Opera Australia’s Don Carlos earlier this year was memorable for her spunk and dynamic energy – something she brought by the bucketful to the bowl. Luke Gabbedy also delighted with his over-the-top acting. His voice may have been slightly under the weather, but he certainly entertained the audience, as his stage presence was extremely dynamic. Although the other three performers were impressive, tenor Diego Torre outshone them all. He is sublime.
The selections that made up the programme, a ‘greatest hits’ of sorts, were well chosen and well-paced throughout the evening. The highlights of the programme included the duets – the ‘Flower Duet’ was performed beautifully by Kong and Dowsley, whose voices complimented each other very well (although the downside of having to use microphones for opera can result in slightly off-balanced amplification), and the Pearlfishers duet stunningly performed by Gabbedy and Torre, always an audience favourite, was thrilling. The lighting should be noted, too, for its atmospheric suggestions of the pieces’ settings and motifs throughout the show – the woods, tears, passion.
Possibly the most transcendent moment of the evening, however, was Torre’s performance of Puccini’s ‘Nessun Dorma’. It’s the quality of singing that we just don’t hear every day, or even every lifetime. His gift is so rare and so powerful; his craft unparalleled on our shores. After witnessing his powerful starring role in Don Carlos, I looked forward to his many upcoming lead roles with Opera Australia – and I’m sure that everyone in attendance on Saturday night now is too. Perhaps in future generations, we can produce Australian singers to the quality of Torre.
We need more of this accessible entertainment. At times when the world may seem dark and hopeless, there is always life, love, light, and hope in music. The closing item, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from the musical Carousel, was poignantly fitting – in a way that could not have been anticipated. It was a night of intense emotion, joy, solidarity, and unity.