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Canberra Today 20°/22° | Monday, January 24, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Season of big stars for budding National Opera

Emma Matthews… to play the title role in Handel’s “Alcina”.

THE National Opera has announced its 2022 season and along with it a swag of luminaries and patrons and performers, inviting the question of whether it is a Canberra company or, as the name suggests, indeed a “national” organisation.

Artistic director Peter Coleman-Wright is at pains to emphasise that: “National Opera is about providing opportunities and employment for Australian artists – singers, creatives, musicians, lighting and costume designers, everyone in the arts. We are providing a platform for Australian artists.” 

But the origins of the company and the director’s appointment are to be found in its forerunner, Canberra Opera that derived from the community organisation Canberra Opera Workshop, which aimed at providing opportunities for young Canberra artists. Under the terms of a $500,000 bequest from the John Drabble Fund to be directed towards the development of new singers in the ACT, Canberra Opera morphed into National Opera.

The Drabble bequest was in part used to mount an expensive but indifferently-staged production of Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” in 2021, in which ANU-trained singers Catherine Carby and Eleanor Greenwood, who had fared well in the UK, were imported and quarantined before assuming leading roles, thereby, the company said, giving an “experience” of our professionalism to our young singers, who were largely consigned to the chorus.

The theme for this year, Coleman-Wright says, is triple-headed – “Hope, Respect and Collaboration” – hope, he says, for the future and revitalisation of the arts industry in a post-covid Australia, respect for the art form, for the past and for hard-working Australian artists and collaboration to provide opportunities for people from the entire arts community. 

A famous operatic baritone whose wife, the soprano Cheryl Barker has been teaching voice at the ANU School of Music, the director has used his considerable connections to pull in big names, such as Aussie super-star Emma Matthews, who will play the title role in Handel’s “Alcina” and conductor Richard Bonynge, who will join the Governor-General and Mrs Hurley as patron.

Lauren Fagan… returning from Europe to perform in “La Rondine”.

First up in March will be the long-postponed run of Puccini’s “La Rondine”, now wisely transferred from Llewellyn Hall to the Canberra Theatre, with Australian singer Lauren Fagan returning from Europe to perform the central role of Magda, opposite the tenor Henry Choo. 

In June, Coleman-Wright will present his own pocket-opera version of Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte”, cast with local singers and performed with Canberra Sinfonia under the baton of Leonard Weiss, a successor to his very successful pocket opera “Marriage of Figaro” last year. 

In his role as guest artistic director of Pacific Opera in Willoughby, Coleman-Wright had done the very same pocket operas before transferring the concept and most of the casting to the National Opera. 

Sonia Anfiloff… guest soloist in an August opera gala. Photo: Peter Hislop

In August, the company will hold an opera chorus gala, headed by dramatic soprano Sonia Anfiloff as guest soloist and sung by a large opera chorus working with the National Capital Orchestra, conducted by local Louis Sharpe. 

Finally, in December 2022, National Opera will present Handel’s “Alcina”, under the baton of Handel specialist Graham Abbott, with Emma Matthews in the title role as well as Rachelle Durkin and Canberra’s Tobias Cole.

Richard Bonynge… accepted the role of co-patron of National Opera.

That production will be dedicated to the late diva Joan Sutherland and her husband, Bonynge, of whose appointment as new patron Coleman-Wright says: “I am overjoyed at his acceptance, belief in and support for what we are doing with National Opera and am honoured he accepted our invitation.” 

National Opera season at a glance:

 

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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