Il Corsaro – a New Zealand premiere, but not the Australasian one

A post-script to the New Zealand School of Music’s production of Verdi’s Il Corsaro
In reference to the reviews published in this website on 26 July.

In the review I sent to Opera magazine (London) of the New Zealand School of Music’s production of Il Corsaro in July, I wrote not only that was it the New Zealand premiere but surmised that it was probably the Australian premiere too.

Browsing for something else I have come across a listing of earlier performances of Il Corsaro in Australia, by the small Melbourne City Opera – in November 2006. It took place in the Melba Hall of Melbourne University. The conductor was Erich Fackert; Joseph Talia was named director, though that did not mean ‘stage director’, as a review called it a concert performance. Talia is the general manager and artistic director of the company.

Wellington may well feel aggrieved at the way the so-called merger between its opera company, Wellington City Opera and the company that had been called Auckland Opera has turned out. Melbourne has long felt the same about the shared access it has to the Sydney-based Opera Australia. Melbourne sees only about half the number of performances that are presented in Sydney.

Things were different up to 1996 which was the year the professional, enterprising Victoria State Opera was driven to an accommodation with Opera Australia, the result, it has to be admitted, of extravagance and mismanagement on the part of the Melbourne company. The merger was supposed to entail some improvement in the attention paid to Melbourne by Opera Australia, but things have not really worked out like that.

A year later, 1997, Melbourne City Opera was founded, successor to the semi-professional Globe Opera which had been a highly successful company since 1978. The intention was to supplement what the Sydney-based company would deliver in Melbourne, and the company has staged two or three operas a year since then, including the occasional rarity like Verdi’s Ernani and Il Corsaro.

Then in 2003, a break-away company was formed, the result, evidently, of some kind of dispute. The name alone, Melbourne Opera, was an irritant to the older company.

However, both companies have successfully tilled their own fields and their activities can be seen through the Internet.

Other opera companies have sprung up too: Lyric Opera of Melbourne which has mounted lighter opera of an enterprising kind: Spanish zarzuela, Offenbach’s La belle Hélène, Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti.
Scheduled in September is Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride.

In the meantime, another Melbourne opera company with more serious intent was set up, in 2007: Victorian Opera which gets State government support; its artistic director is Richard Mills who recently made a rather spectacular exit from the musical direction of the Melbourne Ring cycle.

The company avoids the familiar, popular repertoire but aims to attract new audiences with pieces
such as Nixon in China, Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, a tango opera. In an attempt to engage young audiences there’s Norman Lindsay’s tale The Magic Pudding – the opera written and composed by Calvin Bowman and Anna Goldsworthy, and Xavier
Montsalvatge’s Puss in Boots.

Melbourne is also home to Chamber Made Opera now in its 25th year. It’s run by Artistic Director David Young, about to step aside for Tim Stitz, It claims to be Australia’s most radical and experimental opera company. A look at its repertoire vividly supports that. Many new Australian operas plus significant contemporary works from abroad, such as Turnage’s Greek, Teorema by Battistelli, Philip Glass’s The Fall of the House of Usher.

In 2003 I had visited Melbourne and caught performances by both Melbourne City Opera (Il tabarro and Pagliacci)  and Melbourne Opera (The Magic Flute). I remember talking to both Talia (of the former) and whoever was the manager of Melbourne Opera and was surprised to find the level of animosity between the two, who had earlier worked together in one company.

The company website had a short review of its performance of Il Corsaro by a regular Melbourne critic, Clive O’Connell, which referred to it as a concert performance:

“From all accounts the recently quiescent Melbourne City Opera administration has finally decided to leave the usual fields that it tills of well-known if not mainstream opera.

“This concert performance of a rarely heard Verdi work served the excellent purpose of filling out part of those large gaps in one’s live performance experiences and also helped to lay to rest certain legends about Il Corsaro that have acquired the status of received truth simply because any opposing arguments could not be voiced with assurance.

“Not surprisingly, these three performances from MCO were the Australian premieres.

“Having little to do but stand and sing their contributions from behind the orchestra, the MCO chorus made a sterling impact; both the pirate men and the odalisques…

“Similarly Erich Fackert’s orchestra gave a brisk reading of the score, staying on the ball. The concentrated body of violins worked with a will in the opera’s demandingly active pages, particularly the storm music that accompanies Gulnara’s murder of the Pasha which was performed with Rossinian brio.”


(it appeared in the now defunct Opera-Opera monthly (previously called Opera Australia till the company changed its name to that, putting the magazine’s nose seriously out of joint); it had, till about 2007, covered the Australian opera field admirably, and even took some reviews from me in its later years).


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