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Subject: Greta Bradman sings Mimi at Sydney Opera House
From: Andrew Byrne <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Andrew Byrne <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 16 Jan 2017 23:35:28 -0500
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La Boheme – Puccini – Sydney Opera House.  Thursday 5th January 2017.

Americans may not know or care but one of the most famous and popular 
people in the mid-20th century was Australian cricket legend Donald 
Bradman, some of whose records still stand.  From Jamaica to India his 
name was on the lips of any cricket fan and he may have been better 
known than the King of England.  “The Don”, who died in 2001, was also 
an opera fan and his granddaughter Greta is now a singer of the highest 
order.  

This was an auspicious debut for Greta Bradman who sang the role of Mimi 
with skill, power and finesse.  She played a most credible lover, bon vivant 
and, finally the consumptive.  Her voice has a very pleasing timbre with 
volume to spare, tasteful diminuendos and occasionally a slightly metallic 
quality in the high range.  

Like most of the decisions of the national company recently it seemed a 
little odd to cast Ms Bradman as Mimi, yet she acquitted herself with 
aplomb and professionalism.  She could sing the Queen of Night, Bellini 
heroines, Handel characters or Rusalka since her range and capabilities are 
wide.  Bradman was second cast after the gala opening with Italian 
Mariangela Sicilia who also sang creditably the previous night (yes, I went 
twice – and I have a day job).  Originally it was Nicole Car billed to sing 
opening night but a search now places her as being in Montreal (I was told 
she is expecting a baby - congrats!).  

Korean tenor Ho-Yoon Chung sang Rodolfo with strength and accuracy (a 
countryman had sung the role on opening night).  His high notes rang out 
with an even clarity and excitement.  Australian audiences are used to the 
optional high C at the end of Act I and this tenor did not disappoint.  When 
singing together Chung and Bradman were splendid, almost reminiscent of 
the recording of Caruso and Melba.  I had goose bumps numerous times, a 
good measure of this person’s satisfaction.  Taryn Fiebig sang Musetta’s 
fiery role well but I was intrigued that Christopher Tonkin as Marcello 
seemed under-powered and reticent on opening night yet opened up and 
sang brilliantly on the second.  Perhaps he was daunted, as anyone would, 
at singing a major role four nights running, something no professional 
opera company should ask an opera singer to do (his role was not paired).  

The production by Gale Edwards and Brian Thomson was said to be set in 
Germany, rather odd for an opera clearly set in Paris.  Yet there seemed 
nothing particularly German about the setting although it deviated from the 
librettists rather detailed instructions but was an enjoyable and original 
variation.  The original change was that Marcello was not simply painting a 
canvas of the parting of the Red Sea (the opening lines of the opera).  He 
was painting the entire inside of a huge octagonal barn which we see in 
preparation in Act 1 then in magnificent biblical panorama in Act IV.  The 
English translations take many liberties, seemingly in an effort to be over-
funny and/or raunchy.  It is totally unnecessary as the original, faithfully 
translated, is sheer brilliance.  The Café Momus scene contained a coup-de-
theatre with velveted opera boxes suddenly rotating out of the walls, 
revealing a mirrored audience including fops, pimps, drags and a naked 
lady or two.  

The chorus and orchestra under Maestro Carlo Montanaro were all excellent 
as usual.   I am ever mystified at the shortage of Australian conductors 
engaged by this company.  

This near-perfect work, like the Scottish play, has many historical quirks.  
Caruso is said to have pushed a warm sausage into the hand of Melba 
before singing ‘Your tiny hand is frozen’.  Caruso once sang the 
basso ‘Coat’ aria facing away from the audience when the character playing 
Colline had a sudden bout of  laryngitis.  A multitude of fish, birds and 
animals are mentioned in the libretto which can make a good trivia 
question.  Whale, trout, salmon, herring, beaver, peacock, parrot, vixen, 
viper, horse, toad are just a few which come to mind.  The inscription on 
Melba’s gravestone: ‘Addio, senza rancor’ is from this opera.  Pavarotti 
once said that he liked to debut in every new opera house with the role of 
Rodolfo (a sign of his laziness on the one hand, yet his vocal perfection at 
performing this challenging role).  

Another bonus of the harbourside venue are the evening departure of huge 
ocean liners just before curtain time (Celebrity Solstice, Nordaam, Voyager 
of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas this week).  But the internal tragedy is 
the demise of our long running repertory company, replaced with the 
new ‘festival company’ under present management.  We now have a 
limited number of staged performances of mostly popular and over-
exposed operas in place of ~15 high quality operas to choose from each 
year previously.  And now we have a government report proving what is 
obvious to any opera goer, pointing out that Opera Australia has effectively 
double-dipped by taking funds for opera while producing a large proportion 
of musicals which are commercially viable, unlike grand opera which is the 
purpose of an opera company and the government grants it receives.  See 
some extracts below for those who might be interested in the gory detail.  

Comments by Andrew Byrne .. Andrew's blog 
http://ajbtravels.blogspot.com/ 


The National Opera Review – Final Report dated 2016 and signed by Helen 
Nugent, Andrew McKinnon, Kathryn Fagg and Moffatt Oxenbould.  

Extract from Executive Summary (p i-viii): 

While the Review supports [each company having] … its own artistic and 
strategic direction … it also recommends … that the companies should be 
penalised if agreed funded activities are not delivered (Recommendations 
5.6 to 5.9).

The Review also recommends that significant commercial activities, such as 
Opera Australia’s long-run musicals, should not be funded because there 
are viable independent commercial competitors in the market 
(Recommendations 5.10 and 5.11). This is a significant conclusion of the 
Review. This is not to suggest that Opera Australia should not continue to 
stage musicals on a purely commercial basis.
…

Artistic vibrancy

The number, balance and quality of mainstage productions is integral to 
the future of opera as an artform and the success of the companies.

It is the very lifeblood of each opera company, providing the basis for 
artistic engagement with audiences and the employment of artists. But, in 
the wake of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), it has also been the financial 
Achilles heel of each Major Opera Company, making a growing negative 
financial contribution.

Opera Australia and Opera Queensland, in particular, have responded to 
this challenge by reducing the number of mainstage productions and/or 
performances they offer and, in the case of Opera Australia, by offering 
longer runs of frequently repeated popular mainstage operas.

The unintended consequence has been that audience numbers for 
mainstage opera have declined and employment opportunities for artists 
have significantly decreased.

The Review considers that such a situation is not sustainable. To that end, 
it recommends that core funding should be provided for a defined number 
of mainstage productions. More specifically, it is recommended that … 
[various specific numbers of  productions for each state and national opera 
companies].   


See full report for details and apologies for these incomplete and selected 
quotes.  

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