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To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the VSO a grand season was planned to celebrate including Turandot, The Marriage of Figaro, The Flying Dutchman, La Belle Helene, La Boheme regional tour, La Traviata at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl, HMS Pinafore on a national tour, The Snow Queen (Graeme Dudley) Youth Company at the National Theatre, Zoggy the Time Traveller (Malcolm Fox) Schools Company and the Barry Skelton Concert at the Melbourne Concert Hall

One of the highlights of this stellar season was the Richard Wherret lavish production of Puccini’s, Turandot. The cast was led by the Romanian Tenor, star of the Vienna Opera, Corneliu Murgu and the American star of the Metropolitan Opera, Olivia Stapp. The supporting cast of the Australian soprano, principal soprano of the New York City Opera, Glenys Fowles singing Liu and the New Zealand Bass, VSO veteran and former Bass at the Hamburg Opera, Noel Mangin singing Timur.

Victoria State Opera, Turandot 1987

Victoria State Opera, Turandot 1987

For the company the most memorable moment was hearing  Corneliu Murgu for the first time in the production rehearsals but hearing him with the State Orchestra of Victoria was a revelation to us all. I don’t think many of us had ever heard a voice of such size and weight up close. He was incredible. A Calaf must have a secure top and Mr Murgu had that in spades. The memory of his grabbing of his right arm…or was it his left?…whenever he sang a note above an ‘A’ and the final battle of the voices between Calaf and Turandot was always thrilling.

The rest of the cast were superb. Olivia Stapp made a brief appearance wearing a blonde wig in a stage orchestral rehearsal which promptly vanished and the darker wig you can see below prevailed. Glenys Fowles was a wonderful Liu. Her voice was creamy yet always maintained the youthful timbre which this part requires, Her death scene was frighteningly real and Richard Wherret’s theatre credentials were obvious in the way he handled this particular scene. Noel Mangin was typically marvellous. His voice was a force of nature, always open and free and had no worry with the tessitura of Timur. The thing which this great artist always brought was gravitas. He owned the stage and in his few brief appearances he was captivating.

Ping, Pang and Pong were Roger Lemke, Paul Ferris and Christopher Bogg (Lincoln) respectively. Their moments of interjection and comment were stunning mainly due to the quality of the artists the VSO had cast. Gregory Dempsey singing Altoum had a long career at the English National Opera singing opposite Alberto Remedios in Siegfried, under Reginald Goodall, as Mime. His roles at Sadler’s Wells and the Coliseum included Tom Rakewell, Peter Grimes, Jimmy Mahoney, Albert Gregor, Skuratov, Don José, Erik, David, Mime (Rhinegold and Siegfried) and the Shepherd (King Roger). He created the role of Boconnion in The Mines of Sulphur (Bennett 1965) and appeared as Dionysus in the British premiere of The Bassarids (Henze), and the title role in the first British staging of The Adventures of Mr Brouček. Pardon the long list of roles but suffice to say the VSO were incredibly lucky to have an artist of this stature singing the relatively small role of the Emperor.

Finally the role of the Mandarin was sung by Ian Cousins. His many roles with the VOC/ VSO include both Don Alfonso and Guglielmo in Cosi fan tutte, Morales/Dancairo in Carmen, Valentin in Faust, Figaro and Doctor Bartolo in The Barber of Seville, Sharpless in Madama Butterfly, the Marquis and Germont in La Traviata, Talbot in Maria Stuarda, and Zurga in The Pearl Fishers.

All in all the VSO provided the best posssible company for this production to celebrate their 10th year. Conducted by VSO MD Richard Divall

Richard Divall – Conductor
Richard Wherret – Director

Corneliu Murgu Calaf
Olivia Stapp Turandot
Glenys Fowles Liu
Noel Mangin Timur
Roger Lemke Ping
Paul Ferris Pang
Christopher Bogg Pong
Gregory Dempsey Emperor Altoum
Ian Cousins Mandarin

During the research for this blog post I was saddened to discover that Richard Wherret died of liver failure in 2001 at the relatively young age of 61.