Patrons, media, and other interested parties filed into the Joan Sutherland theatre this afternoon for the launch of Opera Australia's 2015 season, and while there may have been a bit of excitement outside for fans of Doctor Who (with a TARDIS materialising on the shore of the Sydney Opera House, and new Doctor Peter Capaldi plus his assistant Jenna Coleman taking in the Sydney sights surrounding by cameras and people), all the action was on the stage.
First up on stage were the sopranos Jacqueline Dark and Jane Ede, giving a rendition of a duet from Verdi's Don Carlos. Then Opera Australia CEO Craig Hassall came out to the podium to give a little introduction and to bring Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini onstage to unveil the season whole.
First up? A New Year's Eve special (and then continuing on into 2015), with Gale Edwards' critically acclaimed and much-loved (especially by this critic) production of La Boheme, with Metropolitan Opera star Maija Kovalevksa as Mimi and Diego Torre as Rodolfo, and also featuring Lorina Gore and Andrew Jones, and conducted by Andrea Molino.
Emma Matthews was the drawcard for the next on the list, being introduced to sing the Queen of the Night aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute, in the well-known production by Julie Taymor, most famous for directing The Lion King (currently on at the Capitol Theatre). It was a stunning performance, leaving the woman beside me in near conniptions with excitement. Terracini quipped that the aria, translated as "Hell's vengeance boils in my breast", would be one of the chapter titles from his upcoming autobiography. The production also stars Samuel Dundas, Taryn Fiebig, and Daniel Sumegi, and will be conducted by Anthony Legge, who was also the conductor for the afternoon's festivities.
Tosca came next, with tenor Diego Torre giving an aria of Cavaradossi's from it. It is the John Bell production from two years ago, we were assured, and not the one-that-will-not-be-named from a couple of years before that. It stars Amanda Echalaz as Tosca, Riccardo Massic as Cavaradossi, Claudio Sgura and Scarpia, and will be conducted by Andrea Battistoni.
Madama Butterfly, the last Handa Opera on the Harbour, is to be performed in the somewhat smaller confines of the Joan Sutherland Theatre next year, too, in a revival of Moffatt Oxenbould's production. It will star Alexia Voulgaridou as Cio-Cio-San, James Egglestone as Pinkerton, and will be conducted by Gianluca Martinenghi.
A new production of Faust was one of the highlights of the launch, with Sir David McVicar's Covent Garden production to be brought to our shores. A sample video was shown on the back stage wall (like four or five of the productions), and it looks to be stunning. It stars Michael Fabiano as Faust, Giorgio Caoduro as Valentin, Nicole Car as Marguerite, and Teddy Tahu Rhodes in his debut as Mephistopheles. It will be conducted by Guillaume Tourniaire.
A brand new production of Aida by Gale Edwards will be 2015's Handa Opera on the Harbour, with a, as Terracini promised, "coup de theatre you'll be telling your grandchildren about", set to be revealed in the opera's climax, assuming they "get it to work". Latonia Moore and Daria Masiero will alternate the title roles opposite Roberto Aronica and Arnold Rawls as Radames, and it will be conducted by Brian Castles-Onion. The run has also been extended to a month (up from the usual three weeks).
One of the other great highlights was the announcement of a new work, commissioned by all and sundry companies in Australia, of Kate Miller-Heidke's new piece entitled "The Rabbits". It is based on John Marsden (author of the Tomorrow When the War Began series of books) and Shaun Tan's picture book, and it will star Miller-Heidke in the lead role along side other Opera Australia artists. The libretto is by playwright Lally Katz. Unfortunately it is only being played in Melbourne so far (Terracini suggested that a lovely weekend could be had by flying down to see it), but we had pianist and composer Iain Grandage accompany Miller-Heidke on stage for a haunting and powerful performance of one of the songs from it.
Anything Goes was announced as the year's musical, but the particulars were all hush-hush say-no-more, and Terracini was resolutely not forthcoming.
Turandot begins the Winter Season in Sydney, with Yonghoon Lee as Calaf, and Lise Lindstrom, famous for her interpretation of the role, as Turandot. Christian Badea will conduct, in this production of Graeme Murphy's.
Lorina Gore gets a shot at La Traviata, with her debut performance in the role of Violetta, with Rame Lahaj playing Alfredo, and Jose Carbo as Giorgio. Renato Palumbo conducts this revivial of a fantastic production.
Elijah Moshinsky returns to Australia for the first time in twenty years to direct a new production of Don Carlos, in what promises to be one of the more epic productions for 2015. Conducted by Andrea Licata, it will star Diego Torre in the title role, with Jose Carbo as Rodrigo, Milijana Nikolic as Princess Eboli, and Ferruccio Furlanetto as Phillip II. Torre and Michael Honeyman took to the stage to give the duet between the Grand Inquisitor and Phillip, their voices booming into the auditorium.
Sir David McVicar directs a brand new production of The Marriage of Figaro, and soprano Jane Ede regaled us with an aria from it, in the last piece of the afternoon. It will star Dalibor Jenis as the Count, Paolo Bordogna as Figaro, Nicole Car as the Countess, and Taryn Fiebig as Susanna, and will be conducted by Jonathan Darlington.
Much applause was given to everyone, before NSW Minister for the Arts Troy Grant popped in to share his excitement for it all, and the cast took a curtain call and were bombarded with red balloons from the rafters. One was left with a growing anticipiation of a season of greats to come, one described as a season for newcomers to get their feet wet, and older fans to further increase their appreciation of the classics.
The Melbourne season, not dealt with in the Sydney launch. includes Madama Butterfly, Don Giovanni and Don Carlos in the autumn, with The Marriage of Figaro and The Elixir of Love in the spring.