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TSO and Vic Opera Partnership: Is It A Good Fit?

Victorian Opera’s The Sleeping Beauty. Image Credit: via Herald Sun
Graham Strahle
| June 20, 2017

The days of Tasmania missing out on mainstage opera are over, at least for the next four years. the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra(TSO) announced a four-year partnership with Victorian Opera that will see them jointly present “innovative, accessible opera to the Tasmanian audience on an annual basis”.

The above words by Victorian Opera’s Artistic Director Richard Mills were matched by TSO Managing Director Nicholas Heyward, who also welcomed the partnership deal: “Our relationship with Victorian Opera will enable the TSO to expand on our efforts in recent seasons to bring world class opera repertoire to Tasmanian audiences,” he said.

The partnership will see Victorian Opera “present opera projects with the TSO in Tasmania” over at least the next four years, and it will be funded by the Australia Council for the Arts.

So for a state that lacks a resident opera company, let alone one that can deliver mainstage productions, this is very good news. It rests very largely on the TSO’s current circumstances in which its chief conductor, Marko Letonja, happens to also be a highly experienced opera conductor. He just completed a performance of The Ring with the Royal Swedish Opera in May (it was well reviewed too). How long he stays with the TSO remains to be seen: it may be crucial to the partnership’s longevity.

The partnership does seem to be more for Tasmania’s benefit than Victoria’s, but as a state that lacks a resident opera company, let alone one that can deliver mainstage productions, the outcome can only be described as a major step forward.

For its part, Victorian Opera stands to gain in significantly extending its audience base and raising its profile – no bad thing if it wants to join the ranks of Australia’s Major Performing Arts Organisations (which last year’s National Opera Review recommended).

So it seems a natural fit. These are two companies that from time to time gain good national recognition (the TSO won a Helpmann Award last year for example, for its concert with Kate Miller-Heidke, while Vic Opera received no less than six nominations) but otherwise tend to be overshadowed by their larger brethren.

How many productions the two companies can jointly mount per year remains to be seen. The best indication is their track record to date. Vic Opera and TSO and first collaborated in 2015 with the ANZAC centenary work Remembrance, composed by VO’s artistic director Richard Mills. This year, Respighi’s Sleeping Beauty (aka La bella dormente nel bosco) just finished in June at the Theatre Royal, and on the way is a concert performance of Carmen in August at Federation Concert Hall. It is sold out.

So two collaborations per year might be realistic to expect.

A hunger for opera on the Apple Isle quickly became apparent by the runaway success of Hobart Baroque, which staged Haydn L’isola disabitata in 2013 and Handel’s Orlando in 2014. Then came a production from Opera Australia of The Marriage Of Figaro, again at the Theatre Royal.

Until four years ago, IHOS was the only resident arts company in Tasmania that was serving the music theatre and opera sector. Led by composer Constantine Koukias (who now lives in Amsterdam), it presented multimedia, experimental works.

Opera companies from the mainland find the expense difficult to bear bringing touring productions across the Bass Strait. Opera Australia’s regional touring arm and Sydney-based WotOpera have both managed to bring small touring productions to school audiences in Tasmania over the last couple of years, but Adelaide-based Co-Opera has never been across to the island despite its prodigious interstate touring program. The Queensland company Operatif, which presents concerts of opera arias, will be touring Tasmania later this year.

Establishing a permanent presence for mainstage opera would indeed be a breakthrough for the Island State.

Meanwhile, Victorian Opera has announced that it will be joining up with The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden to co-produce Coraline, a new opera by British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage. It will appear in its 2019 season.

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