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Opera In The Park

Words by Sheldon Ang and Nadia Backory
Photography: Sheldon Ang Photography
Opera in the Park, 27th February 2021 at the Supreme Court Gardens

Let no one sleep…or Nessun Dorma. The moment has come. The audience sips into a deafening silence, seduced by the warring rhetoric of the lonesome Prince Calaf under the moonlit garden.

But my secret is hidden deep within me, leading into a semi declamatory Until on Your lips, I shall reveal it, when dawn breaks…followed by the ethereal counteraction from the distant choir, No one will ever know his name…and alas, we must die.

After two minutes of undulating prowess, the counter melody kicks into a monstrous High B of All’alba vinceró – At dawn I will win! where only the likes of Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras dared to venture. Then again, there’s Paul O’Neill of Perth, whose fortitude and control of the elongated Italian notes is spectacularly world-class, bringing the night into a ferocious finale…

The City of Perth Opera in the Park, supported by Lotterywest in association with Perth Festival, was also celebrating its 30th anniversary, drawing interests from all walks of life, from the modestly curious to the aficionados with Sicilian accents reminiscing the magical entwinement of The Three Tenors at the ancient Baths of Caracalla after the World Cup of 1990.

But tonight, the West Australian Opera and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra collaborated to propagate a sonic boom across the Supreme Court Gardens set against the backdrop of the Perth skyline, Elizabeth Quay and the idyllic Derbarl Yerrigan on a balmy summer night under the stars.

From the modestly curious to the aficionados with Sicilian accents reminisced the magical entwinement of The Three Tenors at the ancient Baths of Caracalla, after the World Cup of 1990.

The night was sparked with a Welcome to Country delivered by Dr Richard Walley, followed by an overture to Die Fledermaus (The Bat), by German composer Johann Strauss II (1825-1899).  

The first aria of the evening was Sempre Libera, composed by the greatest of all Italian composers, Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901).

For the 120 years since his death, Verdi’s arias still resonate across the globe, from the La Scala in Milan to the Sydney Opera House. Perthlings dwelled in the operatic afterlife of the greatest, with Verdi’s iconic piece from La Traviata which is, without doubt, the most performed opera in the world.  

World acclaimed and highly awarded lyric coloratura soprano Emma Matthews brought the character of Violetta to life with her spectrum of emotion and distant daze, while delivering on the story telling aspects of her art. 

The 2016 Australian Artist of the Year imparted a sense of strength and frivolity layered with the naivety and fragility of the heroine, as she beautifully illustrated the eternal contradictions of being a woman.  Her vibrant delivery of the emotionally charged libereti created a music of its own within the orchestra, imbuing audiences with the sense of vibrance and chaos that often accompany the experience of tumultuous love.

Michael Lewis, one of Australia’s most respected baritones who has appeared with conductors of world renowned across Europe, joined the cast as a brilliant soloist in Cortigianni of Verdi’s Rigoletto and in several other arias of the night.

The masterpiece soprano aria O mio babbino caro (“Oh my dear Papa”) from the opera Gianni Schicci by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) was next on the setlist. Often described as the second-best composer after Verdi, his masterpiece soprano aria O mio babbino caro (“Oh my dear Papa”) is one of the most recognisable melodies in the world – albeit from a not so familiar opera.

Throughout history, this aria has been the pinnacle piece for the greatest, and tonight the audience was treated by the soprano and baroque specialist Dr Sara Macliver as she portrayed the character of Lauretta, who begs her father to help her marry Rinuccio – the love of her life. Sara’s spine tingling, pitch perfect performance was delivered in quality vocals with a texture so compelling, it lulled our minds into a transient state as we meditated on the idea of love itself.

After the interval, the audience heard the opera of French composer Georges Bizet (1838-1875), most famous for Carmen, which revolves around the relationship of the soldier Don Jose and Carmen the Gypsy. Most of the audience might not know the title, but the tunes were familiar such as Habanera, with mezzo-soprano Caitlin Cassidy, whose soaring vocals took flight tonight in the most challenging of arias.   

The portrayal of each character was compelling by all performers, with each performance took flight into the operatic heights. The tenors and sopranos were hypnotised by the characters they played under the spell of the incredible WASO orchestrated by Conductor Christopher van Tuinen, who themselves hypnotised the audience and serenaded by the lyrical poetry in the subtitle.  If fame is defined by talent, the sopranos, tenors, baritones, composers, conductors and the string orchestras would’ve been the “rockstars” of the world. 

In times when classical music has stood still among mainstream listeners, Perth Festival, WASO and WAO have given the much needed boost, sparking the romance and nostalgia of the yester-centuries, making tonight the main event of 2021.

Most of the modestly curious have transformed into opera enthusiasts, perhaps sparking the births of new generation classical musicians, as they’d Google the history of the arias, local talents and so forth, with the music forming part of their regular playlist.

Sheldon and Nadia of Around the Sound would like to thank Belinda, Danielle, Daniele and Holly for looking after them throughout the night!