Great Opera Hits, Sydney Opera House

As a young singer I occasionally got the opportunity to sing in England’s most prestigious opera houses and concert halls. Sydney Opera House, however, always seemed like a fairytale venue, thousands of miles away, on the other side of the world. This year I spent the festive season far away from home, in the heat of the Sydney summer sun. Suddenly a trip to the world’s most iconic opera house didn’t seem so impossible.

On Boxing Day afternoon I visited the magnificent white building to see a special ‘Great Opera Hits’ show. In the 90-minute concert we saw four upcoming young singers perform some of the most familiar operatic solos and duets, accompanied by Guy Noble on the piano. Carefully programmed to ensure it was accessible for tourists and families, this recital of famous songs was tuneful and enjoyable.

Pianist Guy Noble was a witty and informative host, introducing each artist and aria with cheeky anecdotes and facts. The two-part concert featured four singers who took turns to perform individually and together. Luke Gabbedy had a comical and dramatic personality onstage. His warm and rich tone was evident particularly in Bizet’s ‘Toreador’s Song’ from Carmen. Mezzo-soprano Anna Dowsley had a bright and clear voice which perfectly suited the Rossini aria ‘Una voce poco fa’. The audience particularly relished her duet with soprano Natalie Aroyan, as their voices soared harmoniously for Delibes’ celebrated ‘Flower Duet’. Simon King tackled two legendary tenor arias with emotion and grace. He finished the concert with Puccini’s epic ‘Nessun Dorma’ to rapturous applause, before the ensemble returned to perform Verdi’s ‘Brindisi’ from La Traviata as a lively encore.

Though I would always prefer to see a full opera, I admire Opera Australia and the Sydney Opera House for creating a show that makes this elevated art form so pleasurable and entertaining for visitors from all walks of life. So although I didn’t have my traditional Christmas comforts this was a special festive treat I will never forget.

More information on Sydney Opera House here. Great Opera Hits continues until 20 March 2016, book tickets here.


It’s my experience that a successful bohème must tick 3 boxes; it needs excellent singing from the 6 main characters; undeniable chemistry between Mimi and Rodolfo; and it needs to make you shed a tear or two at the end. Bonus points for making the production fresh, and good production design but these are secondary to the three main criteria. It seems that the latest ENO bohème tried too hard to focus on these secondary criteria rather than making sure the essential boxes were ticked first.

The process of modernizing opera classics is not yet perfected. In some cases it works incredibly well and adds hugely to the production (“for example, see Jonathan Miller’s now mainstream Mafia Rigoletto). In others cases it doesn’t. Unfortunately ENO’s latest staging of bohème veers towards the latter..

In theory, the idea was not preposterous. Replacing Mimi’s outdated illness with a heroin addiction definitely updated the production and made it more relevant to today’s society as opposed to her original, outdated consumptive illness. The heroin first appears as Rodolfo stays behind at the garret (now a stark, white studio littered with bongs and carrier bags) to ‘finish a few lines’. Mimi enters and what was once one of the most touching and beautifully innocent scenes in opera is now replaced with a pair of junkies and their drug-addled infatuation with one another.

The Café Momus scene that follows the pair’s meeting is a busy, bustling feast for the eyes with the ENO chorus creating a fantastic atmosphere as they so often do. The production’s eccentricities continued as Rodolfo bought Mimi a pink wig rather than a traditional bonnet before they join the rest of the bohemians at a neon-lit diner-esque Café Momus. It is unclear whether the bright pink lights and bizarre figures in the scene are a figment of Mimi and Rodolfo’s drug-fuelled high or if it’s just the production’s attempt at modernisation.  This lack of clarity continues into the second half as the heroin was occasionally referenced, for example, Marcello lifting Mimi’s sleeves indicating ‘track marks’, but she still dies from a particularly ‘consumption-y’ cough.

Though this new production still needs to have a few wrinkles ironed out, the music was, on the whole, still excellent. Particular highlights came from Corinne Winters as Mimi and Simon Butteriss as the double part of the equally sleazy Benoit and Alcindoro.  The camaraderie between Rodolfo, Marcello, Colline and Schaunard was definitely there but on occasion the ensemble suffered. Although the chemistry between Winters and Zach Borichevsky (Rodolfo) was tangible, their heroin induced affair seemed to confuse and somewhat diminish the tenderness that has featured in more traditional productions.

Going by the initial tick-list outlined above, out of these three, I’d give the ENO’s latest production of La bohème, 1 and a half ticks; the chemistry between the two lovers was definitely there, regardless of what induced the love; some of the singing was indeed excellent, but there were some shaky moments that unfortunately do not grant an entire ‘tick’ earn only half a tick; and unfortunately not a tear was shed by the writer at the end which is usually the litmus test for any La bohème.

La bohème continues at the ENO until 26 November, book tickets here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy.


The year is 1987; Wall Street and Fatal Attraction are the blockbusters of the year, Toni Morrison’s Beloved has just been published, legwarmers and shoulder pads are still a thing, and Jonathan Miller’s much loved production of The Barber of Seville is debuted.  Fast-forward 28 years and the production still stands firm as a crowd favourite, (happily unlike those legwarmers and shoulder pads) proving that new is not always better. Rossini’s comedic yet endearing work is a cornerstone in ‘dramma-giocoso’ opera and this production continues to uphold its reputation, even if there is that initial knee-jerk reaction of feeling confused on hearing English words replacing the familiar Italian.

In a work as full of energy and activity as Rossini’s Barber of Seville, comic timing is everything and this particular cast has mastered the delicate art of well timed physical comedy. Andrew Shore showed his penchant for comedic portrayals with his scene-stealing Bartolo. Other singing highlights included Morgan Pearse as a fresh-faced Figaro who sang the famous repeated “Figaro”s with much aplomb to the audience’s delight. Kathryn Rudge, who played the bright and charming Rosina, handled Rossini’s famously fiendish runs elegantly. These singers were generally well accompanied by the orchestra, save for a few noticeable moments when the balance was not right and the voices were obscured by heavier instruments.

Miller’s gem is still definitely worth going to see, even in it’s 12th revival, and that is something to applaud (as the audience did when Miller himself took a bow on stage). This production’s longevity is a testament to the phrase: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Although Tanya McCallin’s set is very much reminiscent of the time Rossini wrote the work, and the costume is all period dress, the energy and the comedy shown by the singers keeps this production current, and will carry on doing so for yet another few more revivals to come, I’m sure.

Catch the production in cinemas across the UK on Monday 19 October or go and see it at the Coliseum until 11 November. More information here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy.