Culture Street

By Sophia Whitfield

As the orchestra started up, heralding the commencement of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific, a lady sitting behind me remarked in astonishment that there was ‘live music’.

In 2011 Lyndon Terracini, artistic director of Opera Australia, suggested that Opera Australia was not giving the public what it wanted and needed to change.

As Terracini promised in his 2011 Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address, Opera Australia has continued a program that quite deliberately draws on a new audience. Earlier this year Mozart’s The Magic Flute was more pantomime than opera. It was a production marketed unashamedly towards children and saw long-term lovers of Opera Australia bring their grandchildren to the opera thereby introducing them to the wonders of classical music.

Then came the spectacular La Traviata performed on a purpose built stage under a giant chandelier on Sydney Harbour. Guests flocked to see it.

The latest Opera Australia gem would not normally grace the stage of the Sydney Opera House. Musicals are usually performed at the Lyric Theatre by stars of musical theatre. It is in fact the first time a Rodgers & Hammerstein production has been presented by Opera Australia and the first time it has been performed at the Sydney Opera House.

Yesterday the Opera House was packed to bursting as guests bustled to their seats to watch Teddy Tahu Rhodes and Lisa McCune perform the leading roles of Emile and Nellie in South Pacific. Had Terracini heard the comments of the lady behind me he might have given himself a pat on the back as the words from his address last year echoed true.

“We will always ensure that the making of great art is our primary goal and we will do everything we possibly can to achieve that objective and to present the most interesting repertoire as possible. But we want as many people from the widest demographic to be part of this extraordinary experience and we will do our utmost to embrace a wide popular audience into our community …”

As I listened to the whispered comments around us it was obvious that many had never heard the resonating depth of a baritone voice. Teddy Tahu Rhodes was a new phenomenon to them and they rather approved. A fine figure of a man, not to mention the voice. Thanks to Opera Australia’s contemporary outlook Tahu Rhodes now has a new, larger audience after starring in his first musical.

Fellow co-stars, Kate Ceberano and Lisa McCune, are better known. They both hold celebrity status and have made themselves household names. McCune, the sweet girl next door, and Kate Ceberano, the sultry singer who, it must be said, is far from sexy in this production, but is not supposed to be.

The star power has filled seats and as Terracini predicted enticed a new audience to the Opera House.
“We will play to more people in 2012 than the company has played to ever before in its history and by re-imagining what an opera company is, and means, in the 21st century, we have been able to democratise the operatic form for many thousands of people.”

Tahu Rhodes performance of young rogue Don Giovanni (Opera Australia 2011) is one that is hard to eclipse. It is as if the role was created for him. However hearing him belt out the popular Some Enchanted Evening, in a French accent, is thrilling. He has made the role of Emile his own and is the shining star of this production.

Purists may turn up their noses at this new programming by Opera Australia, but the coffers must be filling nicely as the production plays to packed audiences.

South Pacific will extend the experience of opera lovers and entice newcomers delighting them with ‘live music’. Kudos to Terracini for having the vision to thrill audiences with a new experience of Opera Australia.

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