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.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MISSY: London Firebird Orchestra presents: A Viennese Whirl

The London Firebird Orchestra‘s 2014/15 season started on Tuesday night with the first of four concerts to take place over the next year. The programme boasted an array of the classical music world’s top Viennese waltz hits as well as a handful of charming German songs performed by soloist Silvia Hauer. George Jackson made his conducting debut with the orchestra and, having just come back from studying in Vienna, the theme of the evening was very fitting. It was also Jacqueline Martens first time as leader of the London Firebird Orchestra, making it a trifecta of new faces to the London Firebird stage.

The London Firebird Orchestra, set up in 2012 by Marc Corbett-Weaver, is the answer to where recently graduated music conservatoire students go to play in the terrifying ‘what now’ gap after leaving education and before securing a seat in one of London’s established orchestras . The young group of musicians create an energy that only a young dynamic orchestra can provide. The collective youth of the orchestra was sometimes visible in the occasionally tentative playing, but generally, the group held their own under the excellent direction of Mr Jackson. Though the programme’s unvaried material was not adventurous, the instrumentalists, most especially the wind sections, thrived on the notoriously tricky syncopated rhythm of the Viennese waltzes. I will take this opportunity to commend Alisdair Hill (oboe), Samantha Pearce (flute) and James Meldrum (clarinet) for their excellent playing, both in the ensemble and solo passages. The orchestra in general appeared to grow more confident as the evening went on and by the end of the concert the atmosphere was buzzing with Viennese whirls and flourishes.

It must be said that the real star of the evening was Silvia Hauer, the mezzo-soprano soloist. Her charisma and excellent stage presence punctuated the evening, providing respite from the heavier instrumental waltzes. The programme of songs enabled Ms Hauer to showcase her superb singing and also her wonderful acting ability, going from a passionate Carmen in Bizet’s ‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle’ to a hilarious drunkard in Strauss’ ‘Schwipslied’ from ‘Eine nacht in Venedig’.

The rest of the programme also contained some highlights, from the tradition of the instrumentalists singing in the Bauern Polka by Strauss, to the comical homage to the original performance of Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ movement of his Symphony no. 45 in F-sharp minor, in which members of the orchestra would gradually get up and walk off eventually leaving only two violinists and the conductor on stage. These fun touches and the double encore at the end, complete with audience participation in the form of clapping (expertly conducted by Mr Jackson) were the components to a satisfying and pleasant evening of famous Viennese music at the Actor’s Church of Covent Garden. You can catch the London Firebird Orchestra at their next concert on the 8th of February 2015 at their King’s Place debut where they will be playing a varied repertoire of classical composers.

More information on the London Firebird Orchestra here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy, Angelica Bomford.

The Pearl Fishers, ENO

I spent much of my fifteenth year rehearsing and performing Bizet’s Carmen at the Royal Albert Hall, so I was very ashamed when I realised my ignorance of this French composer’s other famous opera, The Pearl Fishers. Enlisting the help of my experienced operatic grandmother we went along to the ENO’s revival of this classical masterpiece.

A co-production with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, this 2010 revival, directed by Penny Woolcock, is staged this season with a new, young and talented cast. Set in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), there is immediately a sense of the exotic, the rippling overture transporting the audience to a faraway scene. A semi-opaque screen shows elusive divers who dip and drift in the air magically, a sensational and seamless display of artistic acrobatics. Meanwhile gentle music floats from the orchestra pit, conducted by the very able and passionate conductor, Jean-Luc Tingaud.

The narrative is centred on the friendship of two men, Zurga (village headman) and Nadir (a pearl diver) who were previously torn apart after both falling for the same girl, Leila (Priestess of Brahma). Forgetting their feud and abandoning the girl, they reunite and remember moments from the past, singing the famous operatic friendship duet, “Au fond du temple saint” (The Pearl Fishers Duet). When Leila unexpectedly arrives, disguised as an unknown priestess. Nadir recognises his lover’s voice and they reunite late at night; found together, they are sentenced to death by Zurga who is devastated by the betrayal. A revelation from the past saves the lovers lives but risks Zurga’s future.

We were notified at the start of the show that the leading lady, Sophie Bevan had been struck down with a sickness bug, which the ENO casting director kindly explained in graphic detail! Bevan bravely came on and sung with a shrill and bright tone, delicately negotiating the intricate runs. John Tessier is a young and spritely tenor with a light, bright and clear voice, though we were less impressed with George von Bergen as Zurga, whose wobbling bass could not cut through the swelling orchestra, his acting however was the most believable of the group.

The orientalism is often confused, costumes vary from Leila’s belly dancing outfit to Nadir’s Aussie surf shorts look! The set however is wonderfully evocative, a rickety Sri Lankan slum, crowded with chorus members draped in rags. Set Designer Dick Bird also creates a memorable Library backdrop for the final act. Despite the lack of water on stage, the aquatic environment is represented with varying effects and materials, all of which I thought were very successful and stunning to watch.

However just as we arrive at the happy ending, the couple reunited and running off into the sunset, the audience are confronted with a horrific vision of dying children, carried in after the village fire, an unnecessarily bleak finale in my opinion.

Continues until 5 July, book here.