Arts, Australia, Eilene Hannan, Greg Ryerson, Idomeneo, John Copley, John Truscott, Kenneth Rowell, Lisa Gasteen, London Opera Centre, Margaret Haggart, Melbourne, Music, Music director, Nance Grant, Opera, Opera Australia, Orchestra Victoria, Princess Theatre Melbourne, Richard Divall, Richard Wagner, Samson, San Francisco, State Theatre, Victoria State Opera, Victoria State Opera Chorus, Victorian Arts Centre, VSO, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
My first association with the Victoria State Opera was in 1981 when Jennifer Eddy asked me to take the title role in Mozart’s Idomeneo during July/August of 1982. I left Adelaide in January 1969 to study at the London Opera Centre and had returned to Australia only once for an ABC concert tour and a production of La Traviata with the State Opera of South Australia.
A sumptuous production in the Princess Theatre directed by Robin Lovejoy and designed by John Truscott combined to give a most stunning visual Idomeneo. The detail lavished on this great opera by them both, together with Nance Grant’s superb Electra, made this an unforgettable experience.
While the State Theatre was under construction the VSO mounted Samson and Delilah in the new Melbourne Concert Hall ( now Hamer Hall ) in 1983, directed by Nigel Triffit and designed by Kenneth Rowell. In the last act Bachanalle Nigel used his acting troupe and persuaded some of the chorus to create a genuine atmosphere, hence the stage was littered with naked bodies under deep red lighting. The media got to hear and the Melbourne evening newspaper, The Herald of 17th November 1983 carried a headline “Nude Opera Protest” which caused the Chairman, Sir Rupert Hamer to release:
The VSO will present Samson and Delilah with proper artistic standards in total conformity with the spirit of the opera.
Sir Rupert Hamer, VSO Chairman
For the opening of the State Theatre in August 1984 I was asked to perform in a new Opera composed by the Australian composer, Barry Conyngham, written and directed by Murray Copland and conducted by the excellent, precise John Hopkins, Fly.
It is clearly a major Australian opera. If we ever we have a native repertory, ‘Fly’ will be part of it.
The story was based around my character, the inventor/adventurer Lawrence Hargraves with a dear colleague, from English National Opera days, Margaret Haggart, cast as my wife. A well respected local reviewer, Kenneth Hince claimed it as a
Landmark for opera in Australia
Sadly, to my knowledge, the work was never repeated.
I returned to the VSO in August 1986 and to Don Giovanni, an opera I had sung many times in the past. The extremely able Richard Divall who had conducted Idomeneo and Samson and Delilah was at the helm and the gifted Steven Pimlott directed a production which has since appeared on You Tube. To this day I cherish a card from Steven, he was one of those rare directors who made singers feel important. His premature death after a festival at Chichester was tragic.
When the Company asked me to sing Tannhäuser in 1989 I needed to confer with people I trusted before accepting this potential graveyard of the tenor repertoire. An old mentor conductor from Bayreuth, John Bell, thought the role came from the lyric fach. Working with my old friend Noel Mangin and two fine soprani Lisa Gasteen and Eilene Hannan, was an incentive. The director Richard Cotrell was vastly experienced, however, and due to the length of the Paris edition we never actually ran the complete opera prior to opening night. The seven performances thereafter ran smoothly. I recall a board member asking why I wanted to play a character like him!!!
SOSA were bringing the San Francisco sets and designs for a run of Samson et Dalila in Adelaide, transfering to the VSO for nine performances. A Croation of great beauty and a fine mezzo soprano, Dubravka Zubovic completed both seasons with me. The Old Hebrew was sung by two Antipodean internationals, Cliff Grant and Noel Mangin.The statuesque sets suited the State Theatre’s space admirably.
The VSO headquarters in Fitzroy had a friendly feel, most people in the administration had MacKenzie in their name to confuse us! The Company was on the verge of moving to offices behind the State Theatre when I sang my last performance for this now late lamented outstanding Opera Company.
Long may they live in our memories.
London July 2013
© Anthony Roden, London. July 2013
- Nance Grant – A great Australian soprano (victoriastateopera.wordpress.com)
- Victoria State Opera – Production Photos 1980s (victoriastateopera.wordpress.com)
- Richard Divall – Victoria State Opera MD (victoriastateopera.wordpress.com)
- Victoria State Opera – Tannhauser 1986 (victoriastateopera.wordpress.com)
To purchase the recording of Fly http://www.move.com.au/disc/fly-an-australian-opera