Venue: Adelaide Town Hall, King William Street, Adelaide
Season: One performance only, 8pm Thurs 12th May 2011
Duration: 2hrs 15mins incl interval
Timothy Sexton conducted his own Adelaide Art Orchestra and the State Opera Chorus in an evening of operatic chorus highlights, also featuring several of the chorus members in solo roles. This was a concert that had something for everybody with music from the heavyweights of opera, such as Verdi, Puccini and Wagner, through the darkness and complexity of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, to the fun of The Mikado and on to the jazz influenced works of Gershwin and Bernstein.
Sexton pointed out that the members of an opera chorus do not often get a chance to really show what they can do. Often they make a few short appearances, relegated to standing upstage behind the soloists, and sometimes even behind the scenery, and they spend much of the evening in the dressing room waiting to appear for a few minutes here and there. This concert was designed to showcase these singers.
The concert began and ended in Egypt, opening in grand style with the Triumphal March from Verdi’s Aida, the first of six Verdi items in the programme. Puccini, too, was well represented, with two pieces in the first half of the concert and two more opening the second half. Together, these two composers provided half of the selections, representing both their importance to the history and development of Opera and the popularity of their music.
Unlike the Triumphal March, where the chorus sings uninterrupted, many choruses, of course, are sung behind soloists, in the way that the chorus in Greek drama commented on and illuminated the action, and so members of the State Opera Chorus took turns in singing those short solo sections that punctuate many of the choruses.
The one small disappointment in this concert came with the second item, Zitti Zitti, from Verdi’s Rigoletto, in which Desiree Frahn had the very briefest of solos as Gilda, the few notes being enough to realise that she has a very beautiful voice. This left us wanting more from her which, sadly, we were not to have. Hopefully, we will get to hear more from her in the future. Andrew Turner, in fine voice, made his first appearance for the evening as Rigoletto in this piece.
Then, three pieces from La Traviata gave Deborah Caddy, Adam Goodburn, Joanna McWaters and James Scott a chance to solo, too. Not that Chorus members are new to soloing, of course, as quite a few of them take roles in State Opera productions and perform with Singular Productions performances.
Cavalleria Rusticana is Mascagni’s ever popular opera and we were treated to the Intermezzo and the haunting Easter Hymn, featuring Deborah Caddy. Two selections from Puccini’s La Boheme brought back McWaters, Turner, Scott and both Adam and Daniel Goodburn.
The Choral Fantasia from Wagner’s Tannhauser closed the first half. Sexton dedicated it to State Opera’s General Director, Stephen Phillips, who is leaving the company after 22 years, 16 in his current position. It was a fitting tribute, as Phillip’s was responsible for bringing Wagner’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen to Adelaide, the first time as an imported production and the second time as a brand new production created by State Opera SA. He also brought us Wagner’s Parsifal and The Flying Dutchman, not to mention a vast range of new and standard repertoire operas. He will be greatly missed.
The second half saw more great pieces of Puccini’s music, starting with two selections from Madama Butterfly, and also saw some of the Chorus members stepping forward to perform full solos. Joanna McWaters opened this second half singing Ciao Ciao San’s Un bel di followed by the Chorus, off stage, singing the wonderful Humming Chorus.
Bizet’s Carmen could not possibly be omitted and the Act 4 Entr’acte gave the Chorus a chance to open up throw themselves into this exciting music. This led to a leap forward in time for more recent operas, starting with Deborah Caddy singing a wonderfully passionate Summertime from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Mark Oates then made an appearance as Koko with The Lord High Executioner from The Mikado followed by Deborah Caddy and Adam Goodburn, as Maria and Tony, with Tonight from Bernstein’s West Side Story. Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics, and a little of the music, for this opera and that gave a neat lead-in to two numbers from his Sweeney Todd. Kristen Hardy sang Johanna’s Green Finch and Linnet Bird with Mark Oates as Sweeney Todd in The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.
Back to Egypt and this time a piece by Philip Glass with the Funeral of Amenhotep III from Akhnaten, with Andrew Turner as Aye. This opera, along with Satyagraha and Einstein on the Beach, is part of the marvellous trilogy that Sexton, the Adelaide Art Orchestra, Leigh Warren and Dancers and the Adelaide Vocal Project have presented for us under the State Opera banner in recent years.
At the end of the day, the audience showed their great appreciation for what was a truly magnificent concert. Timothy Sexton and the Adelaide Art Orchestra were, as usual, on top form, providing a combination of impeccable accompaniment and superb orchestral playing. The State Opera Chorus is one of the finest that you will find anywhere, which is hardly surprising when you can take any of them and hand them a solo role with complete confidence in their ability to handle it. This concert gave us all a chance to see them confirm that in a fitting and highly absorbing way.
Having such a terrific group of singers, and with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra playing in the pit, also recognised as one the the finest orchestras anywhere, it is hardly surprising that State Opera has an enviable reputation the world over and the ability to tackle some of the most difficult pieces in the repertoire.
Timothy Sexton is to be congratulated for bringing this concert to fruition and allowing lover of great music the opportunity to indulge in a smorgasbord of the best of operatic choruses.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.