Jonathan Pell, Summer of Opera, Part 27

by Megan Meister

La boheme poster

I am getting ready to leave for the airport for the long flight back to Dallas, and thanks to American Airlines and its partnership with Qantas, it can now be done non-stop.

My time in Australia has been wonderful and I think very productive and might lead to some interesting collaborations in the future.  We’ll just have to see how things work out.

One of the best parts of being in this business is the sense of belonging to a large international family, and catching up with old friends like Teddy Tahu Rhodes, who is in Sydney rehearsing for a production of DON GIOVANNI, in which he sings the title role.

Teddy has sung “Marcello” in LA BOHEME and “Escamillo” in CARMEN for the Dallas Opera, and many of you probably saw him as “Escamillo” in the Metropolitan Opera HD transmission of CARMEN two years ago.  Although a New Zealander, he has sung quite a bit in Australia, and he continues to spend a lot of time here.  He will be back in Sydney next September for the role of Emile DeBeque in the Australian premiere of the Lincoln Center revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s SOUTH PACIFIC.  It is intriguing to me that he is now doing GIOVANNI, since two of his famous predecessors as “Emile” in this revival were Paulo Szot on Broadway and Rod Gilfry, who headed up the national tour across America.  Both Paulo and Rod sang the role of “Giovanni” in Dallas Opera’s two most recent productions of Mozart’s masterpiece.  I am sure Teddy will have a huge success with SOUTH PACIFIC, too.

I have also seen Daniel Sumegi, the Australian bass.  I saw Dan in June in San Francisco, where he sang “Hunding” and “Fafner” in the RING.  Dan is back in Sydney for the “Commendatore” in DON GIOVANNI and “Banquo” in MACBETH, which both open in a couple of weeks.

I also spent some time with Peter Kazaras, who sang “Captain Vere” in the Dallas production of BILLY BUDD and was in the world premiere of Tobias Picker’s THERESE RAQUIN at Dallas Opera in 2001.  Peter is now on the faculty at UCLA and runs the young artist program for the Seattle Opera.  Peter had been invited to do some master classes in Melbourne, and since he was going to be in Australia anyway, he decided to fly to Adelaide for MOBY-DICK, and has also been in Sydney.

Last night I attended a performance of Opera Australia’s new production of LA BOHEME.  The company arranged a backstage tour for me before the opera, and it was fascinating to see how they work in such a cramped space.  The Sydney Opera House may be one of the iconic architectural masterpieces of modern times, but the way the stage and backstage is forced into one of the building’s “sails” is truly bizarre.  There is no wing space or rear stage, and there are numerous levels reachable only by a confusing warren of stairs.  This is only partially explained by the fact that halfway through the building process there was pressure brought to reverse the opera house and concert hall.  The opera house is in the smaller of the two spaces, and has a tiny stage (the proscenium opening looks to be about 39 or 40 feet wide) and the orchestra pit may accommodate 60 players, but only with a shoehorn.  All of their sets have to be designed to fit here, but must also be expandable to fit the much larger theater in Melbourne.  Adrian Collette, the company’s chief executive said to me the other day that they really have the greatest opera house in the world in Australia.  The exterior is in Sydney and the interior is in Melbourne!

It just reminded me of how fortunate we are in Dallas to have the Winspear!

Last night’s BOHEME replaced the internationally acclaimed production of Puccini’s opera which had been conceived more than 20 years ago by Baz Luhrman, which also served as the inspiration of his movie MOULIN ROUGE.

This new production, directed by Gale Edwards was very effective, but moved the action to Berlin in the 20′s, so there was a touch of CABARET about it (think of “Musetta” as “Sally Bowles.”)

There was a good ensemble cast, but only one artist who really stood out, and that was baritone Andrew Jones as “Marcello.” He is a member of their young artist program, and made quite an impression…Someone else to keep in mind for the future.

I had better get packed now, or I might miss my flight.  If I am going to be stuck somewhere, though, Sydney would be a great place to stranded…

Sydney Harbor Bridge

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