Arts / Simon says the opera gala won’t be pop

CONDUCTOR Simon Kenway says Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s coming opera gala won’t be a “pop night”.

Conductor Simon Kenway… “Universities sometimes force voices too early, so we provide the kind of mentoring so that the sound doesn’t fall apart.” Photo by Kurt Sneddon

“It’s more like a journey through the history of opera and I’ve got five very promising young soloists to help me do it,” he says.

The concert, enticingly titled “Love and Lust”, will feature a collection of arias and directed scenes from operas including “Fidelio”, “Rigoletto” and “Eugene Onegin” with all music performed by the CSO.

“Each scene is going to be magical,” promises CSO chief conductor and artistic director Nick Milton, who has designed this year’s gala as a youthful sequel to last year’s top-notch lineup from Saarbrücken in Germany.

Kenway is artistic director of Pacific Opera, which he says is “a kind of postgraduate training program we provide for singers once they have left uni and are getting fit to find a position in companies and competitions.”

Pacific Opera artists come from all over the place, as far as Perth and Brisbane. The procedure is to block intensive weeks during the year, for which they descend on Sydney. American superstar movement and acting coach Chuck Hudson is coming soon for instance. “We offer incredible experiences to targeted people,” Kenway says.

Regarding the ideal age for mainstage vocal performing, he says: “It’s tricky, it’s a bit like running a racehorse stable, there’s a lot of planning and care and explanation.”

The brighter, light sopranos come to maturity in their early to mid-20s but their careers are not long – “a bit like champagne, you have to drink it early.”

The darker and more complex voices take longer, bigger sopranos in their 30s and basses in their 40s.

“It can get a bit disheartening for the singers so you have to give them things to do, universities sometimes force voices too early, so we provide the kind of mentoring so that the sound doesn’t fall apart,” says Kenway.

Kenway had thought about doing a whole opera. The last one Pacific Opera did, Janáček’s “The Cunning Little Vixen”, was a huge success, but it cost a fortune. Also, there are fewer singers used that way so a semi-staged concert, directed by Ian Warwick, proved the answer.

He’s devised an unusual program that gets away from the clichéd “Nessun Dorma” and “O mio babbino caro”, although up-and-coming soprano Livia Brash will sing a crowd-pleaser from “The Barber of Seville”.

But there will also be darker moments, as with McDuff’s aria from Verdi’s “Macbeth” and the storm and murder scenes from “Rigoletto”, a piece from Richard Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos”, and both instrumental and vocal parts of “Eugene Onegin”.

But for those who prefer it light and frothy, towards the end there’ll be the Champagne Trio from “Die Fledermaus” and, to conclude, Verdi’s Brindisi song from “La Traviata”.

CSO Opera Gala, Llewellyn Hall, 7.30pm, Saturday, June 9. Bookings to or 6262 6772.


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