A unique mix of operas is set to entertain Melbourne audiences this Spring.

Sydney is set to host the spectacular Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, La traviata next year, but not before Melbourne sees the return of Eljiah Moshinky’s exquisite production, one of the jewels in the crown of the Opera Australia repertoire.

This is contrasted with the Melbourne premiere of the modern American opera Of Mice and Men, directed by modern American opera expert Bruce Beresford.

Finally, hugely popular baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes steps into the thigh-high black leather boots again for his sexy interpretation of Don Giovanni.

La traviata is one of the world’s favourite operas, not to mention the favourite of this writer.  The intimate design of this staging is a very nice contrast to the epic scale planned for the Sydney Harbour extravaganza.

Inspired by the Parisian scenes shown in the paintings of Manet and Renoir, designer Michael Yeargan reportedly went to Europe to measure the type of rooms where La traviata is set as research for his stunning designs.

Costumes are by the world famous Peter J. Hall, who sadly passed away last year. Each of the sumptuous gowns worn by the women of the cast is made from 10-12 metres of fabric and took up to 75 hours to complete.

Four states have had the pleasure of hearing Russian-born soprano Elvira Fatykhova (pictured above) and now it is finally Victoria’s turn. Fatykhova makes her Melbourne debut as glamorous courtesan Violetta Valery, one of the most captivating of opera’s tragic heroines.

Australian tenor Aldo di Toro, now based in Italy, returns to play the besotted Alfredo Germont. Thrilling bass Michael Lewis, as magnificent an actor as he is a singer, completes the lead cast as Alfredo’s manipulative father Giorgio Germont.

Featured soloists include Dominica Matthews, Teresa La Rocca, Andrew Brunsdon, Shane Lowrencev, Richard Alexander, Luke Gabbedy and Richard Anderson.

With well-known music, a romantic and dramatic storyline and a stunning production featuring world class singers, La traviata is the ideal introduction for anyone new to the world of opera. La traviata opens on Wednesday 16 November 2011.

A highlight of the 2007 Opera Australia season was the premiere of Andre Previn’s opera version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Legendary Australian film director Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant, Mao’s Last Dancer) will work his magic again with Of Mice and Men, an opera by Carlisle Floyd based on James Steinbeck’s time-honoured novella.

The well-known story focuses on itinerant best friends, Lennie and George, who find farm work in depression-era California as they dream of owning a farm of their own. Lennie’s immense strength and limited mental abilities result in tragedy for the pair.

American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, who has been heard in four Grammy Award winning recordings, will play Lennie. Griffey came to Melbourne to give a concert at the Recital Centre whilst in Australia for the Sydney season of Of Mice and Men earlier this year.

Joining Griffey will be Barry Ryan (pictured with Griffin above) as George, Bradley Daley as the boss’ son Curley, Jacqueline Mabardi as Curley’s glamorous wife, Luke Gabbedy as Slim and Jud Arthur as Candy.

In a year full of the most popular, frequently-produced operas ever written, fans of the art form will surely jump at the chance to see a rarely staged, relatively new work. Of Mice and Men plays four performances only and opens on Saturday 26 November 2011.  

Brandishing a sword, clad in leathers and boots, Teddy Tahu Rhodes’ show-stopping entrance in Don Giovanni is legendary. Soon to be seen touring the nation as Emil de Becque in South Pacific, this is the chance to see Tahu Rhodes (pictured above) in the type of grand performance that brought him to fame.

Opera Australia has assembled a cast of its finest singers to present one of Mozart’s most beloved scores. David Parkin, seen earlier this year as Marcello in La Boheme, will play the Commendatore, who comes to life as a statue in the finale to escort serial seducer Don Giovanni to hell.

Making role debuts will be the scintillating Jacqueline Dark as Donna Elvira and soprano Hyeseoung Kwon as Donna Anna. Opera Australia favourite Taryn Fiebig, another star of the acclaimed La Boheme, will return to the role of Zerlina. Rising star Samuel Dundas, graduate of the Victorian Opera Young Artist Program, will play Masetto.

This production, designed by Freidrich Oberle and originally directed by Göran Järvefelt, has been a great crowd-pleaser since 1991. The stellar cast for this latest mounting is a strong reason to attend. Don Giovanni opens on 2 December 2011.

All these operas feature the Opera Australia Chorus and are accompanied by national treasure Orchestra Victoria. The season plays at the State Theatre, the Arts Centre.

Photos: Branco Gaica