COVID may have thrown a spanner in the spokes of the National Opera, which was forced to cancel the opening show of the 2022 season earlier this year – but it hasn’t beaten artistic director Peter Coleman-Wright. He has a little something up his sleeve – or rather, in his pocket.
With hope for the future and revitalisation of the arts industry in post-COVID Australia, the National Opera is ready to open the season (again) with Mozart’s masterpiece Cosi Fan Tutte as a ‘pocket opera’.
Abridged and performed in English, audiences will be able to absorb the nuanced humour in this accessible version of a classic.
The story begins when Ferrando and Guglielmo’s friend, the cynical Don Alfonso, expresses doubt in the fidelity of women and offers the lads a wager; he will prove their lovers are capable of infidelity.
Confident in their lovers’ faithfulness, Ferrando and Guglielmo accept the challenge. As deception, intrigue and hilarity ensue, it will be no wonder to audiences how Cosi Fan Tutte has stood the test of time.
Cast with local singers and Canberra Sinfonia under the baton of Leonard Weiss, Peter hopes this production will draw fresh eyes to the world of opera.
“Many people have an outdated notion that opera is this scary, elitist art form that’s exclusively for rich old people – this simply isn’t true,” he says.
“Pocket operas are one aspect of my vision for the National Opera to break down these preconceptions and encourage new audiences.”
It’s not the National Opera’s first pocket opera, but Peter says Cosi Fan Tutte lends itself beautifully to the approach.
“It’s a gorgeous score. It’s funny, it’s charming, and it’s the ideal vehicle to entice people to come and see what we’re doing,” he says.
To condense a three-hour opera down to just over an hour, Peter has surgically removed some choruses and arias but left the story’s thread firmly intact.
“I have lived my entire life for opera. I respect the art and would not butcher it,” he says.
“The result is an updated Cosi Fan Tutte. It’s more quirky and more fun; it maintains a pace and never sags.
“I hope die-hard opera fans will be pleased to see fresh faces and the newcomers will be floored, because honestly, nine times out of 10, when I speak to a young person who has seen opera for the first time, they can’t believe what they’re witnessing.
“It’s drama, passion, orchestra, it’s goosebumps. It’s something everyone should experience in their lifetime.”
In August, the focus will shift to celebration with an opera gala – National Opera’s big chorus event at Lewellyn Hall.
It will include a large opera chorus working the National Capital Orchestra under the baton of Louis Sharpe and performances from guest soloist Eleanor Greenwood.
Completing the season, National Opera will present Handel’s Alcina, featuring Emma Matthews in the title role together with Rachelle Durkin, Russell Harcourt and local Canberran Katrina Wiseman making her professional debut under the baton of Handel specialist Graham Abbott.
Named for its protagonist, Alcina tells the story of a powerful sorceress who rules over a mystical island and uses magic to seduce knights who land there.
Her latest conquest Ruggiero is a warrior who, under Alcina’s spell, has strayed from his duty and his fiancée.
Peter says the production will be both a bow to history and a hat tip to the future.
“I wanted us to be doing something that honours the past whilst celebrating the future of opera in this country,” he says.
“It’s baroque opera so it’s fairly static in its presentation, but I hope to do something a bit different – you’ll have to wait and see what.”
Thick with drama, twists and magic, Alcina promises to weave a spell over knights and audiences alike.
Performances will be dedicated to Dame Joan Sutherland and her widower, National Opera’s new patron, award-winning Australian conductor and pianist Richard Bonynge. Mr Bonynge’s achievements and renown are hard to overstate. His stellar musical career spanned the globe for half a century and he conducted almost all of Dame’s Joan’s performances for nearly forty years.
Peter says with Mr Bonynge’s addition to the Opera’s patrons alongside Governor-General David Hurley and Linda Hurley, National Opera was “looking forward to a highly successful future with such illustrious support”.
“I am overjoyed at his acceptance, belief in and support for what we are doing with National Opera and am honoured he accepted our invitation,” he says.
Patronage helps National Opera achieve its mission to provide opportunities and employment for Australian artists and showcase their talent for the modern opera-goer while paying respect to the art form.
Any Australian organisations looking to support the reignition of the arts in Australia for Australians are invited to reach out to National Opera about joining the National Opera family. For more information on the upcoming 2022 season, visit National Opera.