Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Sydney Opera House – The Opera (The Eighth Wonder) - a must see outdoor show in Sydney

For starters, I'm not an opera expert. My knowledge of opera is very limited. So it was with some trepidation that I set out to see "Sydney Opera House – The Opera (The Eighth Wonder)" last weekend. All I knew that it was the story of the Opera House coming into being and that it was to be performed outside. Would I hear just a bunch of singers standing on the steps of the Opera House exercising their lungs in opera mode?

Well, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a wonderful night of entertainment listening to and seeing this very creative Australian opera production. It is actually the third time it has been presented at the Opera House. This time around it is performed to help celebrate the 60th anniversary of Opera Australia, which was formed in 1956.

This production is ground breaking due to its outside location. It is not performed in one of the theatres under the shells of the Opera House, nor on a floating stage like the other outdoor Handa Operas on Sydney Harbour. It is performed on the 100 meter wide steps of the Opera House with the audience seated in the partitioned off forecourt. Sometimes the singers perform on the granite steps, and at other times they perform on platform stage segments that glide across the steps in various formations. (These were shaped in the design of the ceramic tiles on the shells of the Opera House.)

Other prominent parts of the spectacular staging were a large inflated white screen that was used for video projections, large white unevenly shaped balls that were lit up from the inside with various colours. I wasn't sure what these rock-like creations were, but later found out they represented crumpled up balls of paper. Of course, the sails of the Opera House featured strongly in the background.

The opera, written by Alan John and Denis Watkins, with music by Alan John, was split into two acts separated by a thirty minute interval. The opera told the story of the origins of the Sydney House House and the struggles of its prolonged construction period up until its gala opening.

The story of course featured the genius architect of the Opera house, Jorn Utzon, the various politicians and public servants; Alexander Mason, an opera singer and her family; and Stephen Goldring, her boyfriend opera musician.

There was little spoken dialogue in the opera, with most of the storyline sung by featured soloists backed by members of the Opera Australia Chorus. Unlike most other operas, this one was sung in English. It was still good to have english subtitles on screen, as some of the singing, even though in English, was a bit hard to understand without reading.

The key male singers are tenor Adan Frandson, playing Jorn Utzon, Martin Buckingham playing the Premier, and Michael Petruccelli playing Stephen Goldring, the opera musician. The key female singer is Stacey Alleaume, playing Alexandra Mason, the opera singer. She has the desire to sing in the new Opera House, which she ends up doing. These singers all do an admirable job of singing and acting in this unusual opera setting. They are backed up by a talented team of other singers, actors and dancers, many who take on multiple roles throughout opera. The actors on stage in the beach scene must have been rather cool in their swimming costumes.

The music was played by the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra under the baton of Anthony Hunt. They were not playing on stage, but somewhere deep in the bowels of the Sydney Opera House. We could not see them playing their various instruments, but heard them through state of the art stereo headphones that were given to the audience as they came in. This was a genius way to solve the problematic outdoor location of the music being distorted and blown away by the wind. The orchestra sounded wonderful coming through the headphones.

It was unusual not hearing the loud clapping of the audience throughout the performance, as it was drowned out by the singing and music coming through the headphones.

What I have noted about other operas, is that several key players die on stage. True to form, this opera has the Premier dying, and the Architect symbolically dying on the Opera House's gala opening night.

I know a few things about the history of the Opera House, but my knowledge expanded as a result of seeing this opera. For example, I thought the many steps leading up to the Opera House were just a bad design concept. I had not realised their connections to the architects interest in Mexico and the Aztecs warriors.

The opera is not all serious drama. Humour is provided by the father of Alexander, the female opera singer. He is the stereotypical knockabout Aussie larrikin character, that seems to be over most of our neighbours' fences. The appearance of the Queen onboard the royal yacht Britania, appropriately or inappropriately, is also a source of some humour.

Everyone should make the effort to go along and see "Sydney Opera House – The Opera (The Eighth Wonder)". The opera is about the construction of a building, but it is much more than that. People will resonate with the dreams, visions, romance, struggles, passion, courage, love, drama, and triumph that are the themes aptly exhibited in this opera production and are a part of our daily lives.

When you go, remember it is an outdoor opera. The seating area and stage are completely uncovered. Dress appropriately with warm clothes, and remember to take a plastic poncho with you just in case it rains. The opera will be still staged even if it rains.

The presentation of the "Sydney Opera House – The Opera (The Eighth Wonder)" is perfect. The creative team has done an imaginative job with staging and lighting. However, some thought needs to be given to the provision of service during interval to prevent the time taken up standing in queues. There are too few female toilets resulting in a huge lineup. Perhaps half of the mens toilet cubicles could be relocated to the womens area, with them being replaced by urinals. Even though interval is 30 minutes long, the queues to the food and drink outlets are blocked after 20 minutes, meaning that some people are turned away without being served. A problem that I and other people encountered at one of the outlets is that those who had ordered and paid for a hot chocolate drink and were waiting in the queue to collect them were told they had run out of hot chocolate, so had to request a refund or change to a coffee.

The singers and orchestra certainly deserved the applause at their bows at the end of the show. It was unfortunate that no acknowledgment was given to the people behind the scenes on the night who make the opera possible. Here I am thinking of the hard working sound and light crews and those stage hands in overalls who slid the stage platforms across the steps. They certainly need to be thanked by the audience for all they do.

There are only 3 performances remaining of "Sydney Opera House – The Opera (The Eighth Wonder"). Don't miss this once in a life time opportunity to see this incredible outdoor performance. Even if you have never been to an opera before, you will enjoy and understand this uniquely Australian opera about the The Eighth Wonder of the world - the Sydney Opera House.

Sydney Opera House – The Opera (The Eighth Wonder)

     A city's icon.
     An architect's dream.
     A political battleground.
When: Thursday 3, Friday 4, Saturday 5 November 7.30pm
Where: Forecourt, Sydney Opera House
Ticket Prices:
  Adults]: Premium $185.00
     A Res $145.00
     B Res $109.00
     C Res $ 69.00
  Pensioners/Students $62.00 – $167.00
  Child $35.00 – 93.00

Website: https://opera.org.au/whatson/events/the-eighth-wonder

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