I‘m worried that Victorian Opera is being dragged – but not visibly kicking and screaming – back into the twentieth century.
The Rite of Spring ballet was first performed, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on 29 May 1913. The audience wore formal gear: women in evening dresses (Coco Chanel could afford them), men in top hats and tails.
In December 2012 Victorian Opera’s 2013 season launch featured Orchestra Victoria (on stage, I grant you) in evening gear. The Maestro made his entry and formally shook the hand of The Leader. The men in the orchestra wore white bow ties and quaint tailed suits. Why?
In February 2013 Victorian Opera’s Gala Concert featured Orchestra Victoria (on stage, I grant you) in evening gear. The Maestro made his entry and formally shook the hand of The Leader. The men in the orchestra wore white bow ties and quaint tailed suits. Why?
The Gala Concert featured the incomparable Wagnerian wunderdame, Lisa Gasteen and the current Master of Music (Opera Performance) students, Carlos Barcenas Ramirez, Kirilie Blythman, Olivia Cranwell, Christine Heald, Jeremy Kleeman, Timothy Reynolds, and Daniel Todd. Superb! The kinder were in complete contradistinction to "Star baritone José Carbó" and the soprano who may have been able to sing once but now launches a bellow to attack every high note. I struggled to be nice and work out why she was there when, on the same platform, Olivia Cranwell showed every indication of becoming Australia's next great Wagnerian soprano.
I’ve become used to a much more democratic – and less pretentious – scenario. At recent Victorian Opera productions the orchestra wandered into the pit and did a bit of practice, tuned up a bit, had a chat with the conductor who was having a bit of a show and tell at the piano with a student (how much an hour was that worth, the lucky bugger?) and eventually he (the conductor) stood up in his lounge suit or black skivvy and got on with it.
The whole milieu of VO performances has become down-beat, accessible, unpretentious (unlike Proper Productions in The Big City) but still highly professional. Over the road Melbourne Chamber Orchestra members are now in 21st century black gear. Tails and the like – shiny bums and the occasional moth hole – are hanging behind the door, waiting for a trip to Vinnie’s Boutique where they belong.
The 2013 Season Launch was enormously successful (even if it did start with the totally unrelated bit of rubbish, the overture from the thankfully never-performed Weinberger opera Schwanda the Bagpiper). If the criterion was audience response the program was seen to be a winner. Nixon in China? Roar of approval. Magic Pudding? Too right mate! Maria de Buenos Aires? Tango and fatal passion! Pus in Boots? My billylids will love it. A bloke two seats from me sang along, sotto voce and grinning, with our stunning M Quaife as Madam Mao. The season list got enthusiastic approval from the crowd and so it should have. Nowhere to be seen were the nineteenth century potboilers – wall-to-wall Verdi (although I could handle wall-to-wall Britten)- that fill Australian Opera’s list. This repertoire is unusual, innovative and contemporary; risky perhaps but it seems that young people are beginning to find it.
The list has an excellent chance of appealing to young people so why re-erect the uniform – the clothes and behaviour - that tells them, like bishops' regalia, that they are witness to an arcane art that is being practised by anointed ones, set apart and far above the common herd?
VO has had a policy of promoting young singers. They’ve been carefully chosen and cast and they’ve performed brilliantly. AO’s last production of La Boheme in Melbourne was, quote Gill, “eurotrash” and the leads were appalling. I’ve walked out of every VO event – complete seasons and extras – wrapt, enchanted, delighted, happy for the future of opera and opera singers in Victoria.