Melbourne continues to enjoy a full and rewarding program of high-class opera, wondrous dance and high profile visiting artists.
The opera community around Australia mourned the death of Richard Gill, conductor, leader, teacher and life long promoter of the love of music. Victoria owed Gill a significant debt for his work in the establishment of vibrant local company Victorian Opera. Gill was the Founding Music Director for Victorian Opera, a position he held from 2006 to 2012.
The international opera community felt the loss of legendary soprano Montserrat Caballé, who passed away at age 85.
In Melbourne, Opera Australia balanced the presentation of three perennial favourites with three relative rarities. In La Traviata,American soprano Corinne Winters (Violetta) made her Australian debut. American soprano Latonia Moore made her Melbourne debut as Tosca (below). Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska (Mimì) made her Melbourne debut in La Bohème.
Acclaimed Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto travelled to Melbourne for a lavish production of Don Quichotte.
The national company played against type to thrilling effect with a large-scale production of Brian Howard’s Metamorphosis (below)at the Malthouse. Simon Lobelson led the all-Australian cast with a thrilling performance as Gregor Samsa. Metamorphosis also provided the welcome opportunity to see long-term favourite soprano Taryn Fiebig (Mother), who had undergone treatment for cancer earlier in the year.
In July, Opera Australia launched the 2018-2019 regional tour of a new production of Madame Butterfly, directed by John Bell.
Finally, Opera Australia filled the mighty State Theatre with a huge company of singers and musicians for the exclusive Melbourne season of Kaspar Holten’s production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (below).
Although Melbourne does not see as many Opera Australia performances as Sydney, the shortfall is increasingly well filled by ambitious, well-realised local productions.
Victorian Opera gave two magnificent presentations at Palais Theatre, gathering a very impressive cast for Rossini’s William Tell(below), not seen in Australia for some 140 years. Later, successful Australian artists Angus Wood and Siobhan Stagg returned for the enthralling Pelléas and Mélisande (top photo).
Now something of an annual tradition, Jessica Pratt visited Melbourne for a bel canto opera in concert. Little known Australian singer Caitlin Hulcup was a magnificent partner for Pratt in The Capulets and the Montagues(below). Victorian Opera continued to introduce opera to young audiences, returning their wonderful The Magic Pudding and Hansel and Gretel to the stage.
Continuing their extraordinary level of commitment to commissioning new works, Victorian Opera ended the year on a high with the dazzling Lorelei(below), a production also notable for the extremely high proportion of female creative artists.
Melbourne Opera returned to the Palais Theatre for the epic Tristan and Isolde (below). Unfortunately, the opening night had to be cancelled due to illness, but the remaining performances proceeded triumphantly. Ever popular Melbourne soprano Lee Abrahmsen starred as Isolde, returning later in the year as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkalier.
Melbourne Opera finished the year with Rossini’s Otello, which was, rather unbelievably, making its Australian premiere. Bel canto soprano Elena Xanthoudakis returned to grace the stage as Desdemona.
The absence of Lyric Opera of Melbourne in 2018 was disappointing; hopefully, the unique company will be back on stage next year. Boutique scale productions continued at Gertrude Opera, who successfully launched their Yarra Valley Opera Festival, and emerging company BK Opera.
In a fascinating one-off season, acclaimed soprano Emma Matthews returned to the Melbourne stage for new work The Space Between(below). Composers Paul Grabowsky (music) and Steve Vizard (lyrics) consulted with Matthews to craft this highly personal, emotionally charged work. Hearing Matthews in such exquisite form was a painful reminder that she should still be playing lead roles on the operatic stage.
Melbourne Recital Centre’s Great Performers series presented premier American baritone Thomas Hampson in his long overdue Australian debut. The series also hosted powerhouse Australian heldentenor Stuart Skelton, whose concert was unique not just for the inclusion of a bracket of Icelandic music, but also the because the intimacy of the venue provided a rare chance to hear Skelton sing softly.
In her Mad for Love concert, treasured soprano Sumi Jo was joined by charismatic baritone José Carbó.
Around Australia, other notable productions included Brett Dean’s Hamlet (Adelaide Festival), Stuart Skelton and Gun-Brit Barkmin in concert performances of Tristan and Isolde (WASO) and Roméo et Juliette (TSO) (below).
While the relative intimacy of La Bohème (below)may have seemed an unusual choice for annual outdoor spectacle Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, the icy streets of 1968 Paris were created to striking effect.
Sydney had their first experience of Melbourne favourite Jessica Pratt when the stunning soprano played Lucia di Lammermoor (below) for Opera Australia at Joan Sutherland Theatre opposite popular American tenor Michael Fabiano. In April, Man in Chair was lucky enough to be in New York to see Pratt make her auspicious Metropolitan Opera debut as Lucia di Lammermoor. Whilst in New York, Man in Chair also caught Placido Domingo, Sonya Yoncheva and Piotr Beczala in Luisa Miller. A select season of Met Operas continues to be shown in Australian cinemas each year.
Earlier in 2018, Man in Chair travelled to London, seeing Rigoletto at Royal Opera. A trip to Zurich brought the chance to see Le Comte Ory, La Fanciulla del West and Madama Butterfly. Going on to Vienna, Man in Chair saw Tosca, La Fille du Regiment and Don Giovanni.
A number of local performers distinguished themselves in notable performances across the year.
Tenor Carlos E Bárcenas cut a dashing figure in William Tell (as Arnold Melcthal), later giving another dynamic performance as Tebaldo in The Capulets and The Montagues.
Baritone Samuel Dundas (below, left) completed the journey from Young Artist to leading man, making a magnetic Marcello in Handa Opera: La Bohème. Dundas showed maturity as Golaud in Pelléas and Mélisande, and was in excellent form as Mercutio in Roméo et Juliette.
Ever-valuable mezzo-soprano Dimity Shepherd brought warmth and compassion to Emilia in Otello, later returning to her particular forte of modern opera as one of the trio of bravura divas in Lorelei.
Soprano Julie Lea Goodwin (below, left) delighted as saucy Musetta in Handa Opera: La Bohème, later swapping the glitter for grime as ghoulish Greta in Metamorphosis. Goodwin’s starring role as Maria in Handa Opera: West Side Story next year is keenly anticipated.
The Australian Ballet began the year with a sterling tribute to the masterful talent, vision and creativity of Graeme Murphy, whose association with the company stretches across fifty years. A lovingly curated mixed program, Murphy (below)began with highlights from five significant works created for Sydney Dance Company, with iconic one-act ballet Firebird playing in full in the second half.
A brightly polished revival of The Merry Widow saw the return of former Principal Artist Kirsty Martin in the title role. Adam Bull marked ten years as a Principal Artist, starring on opening night as Danilo.
Mixed program Verve accentuated the elegant beauty found in streamlined modern dance. Along with previous works by Stephen Baynes and Tim Harbour, the program featured Aurum (below), a stunning world premiere choreographed by Corphyée Alice Topp.
Melbourne was treated to an exclusive return season of Maina Gielgud’s Giselle(below), which opened with a wonderful performance from Principal Artist Ako Kondo in the title role.
Brilliantly conceived and expertly realised, The Australian Ballet’s world-class new production of Spartacus (below)was an artistic and physical triumph. Lucas Jervies’ choreography had a unique spirit of urgency and spontaneity. Bulked up but ever graceful, Principal Artist Kevin Jackson scored another career triumph in the title role. Replacing an indisposed Jackson, Senior Artist Jarryd Madden reportedly wowed the house at the Sydney opening night of Spartacus.
The Australian Ballet continued to cater for the audiences of the future, touring their adorable Storytime Ballet: Coppélia around Victoria, NSW and ACT.
Movement within The Australian Ballet included the disappointing news that Principal Artists Lana Jones and Leanne Stojmenov were to retire at the end of this year. In careers filled with many highlights, recent standout moments include the title role of Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella (2013) being created on Stojmenov, and Aurora in David McAllister’s The Sleeping Beauty (2015) being created on Jones.
Two cherished artists, each as characterful as they are elegant, were promoted to Principal Artist. On opening night of Spartacus in Melbourne, David McAllister surprised Amy Harris on stage with news of her promotion. Later in the season, Brett Chynoweth was also deservedly promoted.
Visiting companies to Melbourne included The Imperial Ice Stars with their Swan Lake on Ice. Queensland Ballet ably demonstrated the vitality and good humour of their company with a welcome presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, choreographed by The Royal Ballet’s Liam Scarlett.
Visionary choreographer Stephanie Lake created striking new modern work Colossus for the Melbourne Fringe Festival.
The Australian Ballet Schooloffered four world premiere pieces, choreographed by Stephen Baynes, Margaret Wilson and Simon Dow, as part of their Showcase 2018. The School ended the year with a charming presentation of La Sylphide & Other Works (below).
For Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School’s annual professional season, Tim Harbour adapted Romeo and Juliet to be set amongst warring apple sellers at the Queen Victoria Market.
In January, Man in Chair was lucky enough to see a performance (or two) of the twentieth anniversary season of Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella at Sadler’s Wells, London. Australia’s Ashley Shaw starred in the title role, opposite vital New Adventures leading man Dominic North.
On two occasions on the January trip, Man in Chair was in the right place at the right time. After the curtain calls for Paris Ballet’s Don Quixote, Dance Director Aurélie Dupont caused great stage excitement by surprising Valentine Colasante with promotion to the highest rank of danseuse etoile.
Having booked to see Steven McRae in Giselle (below) at Royal Ballet, disappointment at the Australian star’s indisposition soon subsided with the news that Melbourne-born Benjamin Ella was replacing McRae, dancing his first lead role at Royal Opera House as Albrecht.
The Royal Ballet entrusted Liam Scarlett with choreographing a new Swan Lake, replacing the Sir Anthony McDowell production, which had served the company well for some thirty years. The highly anticipated premiere season was an absolute triumph. Swan Lake was screened locally by Village Cinemas.
Best Operas 2018:
Mainstage: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Opera Australia)
Independent: William Tell (Victorian Opera)
Concert: The Capulets and the Montagues (Victorian Opera)
Heavenly Performances 2018:
Mainstage: Simon Lobelson (Metamorphosis, Opera Australia); Latonia Moore (Tosca, Opera Australia)
Independent: Neal Cooper (Tristan and Isolde, Melbourne Opera); Lee Abrahmsen (Tristan and Isolde, Melbourne Opera)
Concert: Stuart Skelton (Great Performers: Stuart Skelton, Melbourne Recital Centre); Jessica Pratt (The Capulets and the Montagues, Victorian Opera)
Best Ballet 2018:
Heavenly Performances 2018:
Ballet: Kevin Jackson (Spartacus, The Australian Ballet); Ako Kondo (Giselle, The Australian Ballet)
Photos: #1, #2, #4, #5, #13, #15, #16, #17, #18 Jeff Busby; #3, #11, #12, #14 Prudence Upton; #6 Charlie Kinross; #7 Pia Johnson; #8 Robin Hall; #9 Mark Gambino; Sergey Konstantinov; #19 Simon Parris