Arts / The many roles of Tobias Cole

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Tobias Cole, who will star in Handel’s “Alexander Balus”.
Tobias Cole, who will star in Handel’s “Alexander Balus”.
TOBIAS Cole seems like a man with a mission – two missions, in fact.

Fresh from playing the title role in State Opera SA’s August production of Philip Glass’s opera “Akhnaten”, where director Leigh Warren had him moving among his dancers, Cole has come to respect works where movement plays an important role.

That links nicely, Cole says, to his newest plan, to set up what he calls a “body and voice” company.

“It’s high time we had a company that encourages the use of every faculty available for expression – it’s the way to go,” he tells me.

The other big thing in Cole’s life at the moment is the coming Canberra Choral Society production of Handel’s “Alexander Balus”, which depicts King Ptolemy of Egypt manoeuvring and using his own daughter Cleopatra to get Alexander Balus off the Syrian throne.

“The music in it is up there with his best and the final aria by Cleopatra is one of most glorious arias in Handel’s writing,” Cole enthuses.

He’s being careful to call it neither an opera nor an oratorio, just Handel’s “Alexander Balus”, so not to turn people off.

He’ll be staging the work in two carefully-trimmed segments of 55 minutes each, with one interval. In the first two acts of “Alexander Balus” nothing much happens, but Act III has “action galore”, he says.

Taking Handel to The Playhouse, with its “possibility of intimacy”, has been was a canny move.

“I think musicians tend to rely too heavily on reverberant conditions,” he says.

“You have to work a little harder in a drier space like The Playhouse, but it’s worth it.”

Cole will sing the title role of Alexander. His opposite number, Jonathan, the brother of Judas Maccabeus, will be sung by Australian tenor Christopher Saunders. They first met in 1993 when both were finalists in the Marianne Mathy singing competition.

Cleopatra will be played by Melbourne soprano Jacqueline Porter, known for her work with Victorian Opera.

Conductor Brett Weymark will lead the Canberra Choral Society augmented by some of the ANU Chamber Choir and 11 players performing on baroque instruments. Erin Helyard will play harpsichord and Peter Young the organ.

And what will next year’s Handel be? – it’s always a Handel – Cole can’t/won’t say, but says: “Don’t worry, Handel is going to keep us all very busy for the next 20 years.”

Handel’s “Alexander Balus”, Canberra Choral Society, The Playhouse, Saturday, September 20, bookings to 6275 2700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au

 

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