HE PRESENTS THE STORY AS AN AL­LE­GORY OF PO­LIT­I­CAL POWER

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music -

road — with Richard Tognetti giv­ing the lo­cal pre­miere of a new con­certo for elec­tric vi­o­lin by Brett Dean — and or­ches­tral con­certs get un­der way.

But it is dif­fi­cult to avoid the loom­ing dou­ble-whammy opera bi­cen­te­nary of 2013. Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wag­ner, masters of grand opera, en­sured they would be locked for­ever in mu­tual or­bit by be­ing born in the same year. (Peter Con­rad, in his book Verdi and/or Wag­ner, in­sight­fully and en­ter­tain­ingly pits one com­poser against the other.)

Wag­ner’s moment will come later in the year, when Opera Aus­tralia gives its first com­plete per­for­mance of his epic mu­sic-drama Der Ring des Ni­belun­gen in Mel­bourne.

The year starts with Verdi and a new pro­duc­tion of Un Ballo in Maschera de­vised by icon­o­clas­tic Span­ish the­atremak­ers La Fura dels Baus. (The com­pany’s work in Aus­tralia in­cludes Ligeti’s opera Le Grande Macabre at the 2010 Ade­laide Fes­ti­val.)

The story of a king’s as­sas­si­na­tion in Swe­den was shifted to Bos­ton to cir­cum­vent 19th-cen­tury cen­sors; di­rec­tor Alex Olle is pre­sent­ing the story as an al­le­gory of mod­ern po­lit­i­cal power, set in an op­pres­sive Or­wellian fu­ture.

OA’s Verdi fes­ti­val con­tin­ues in Syd­ney with Il Trova­tore, Fal­staff and, later in the year, La Forza del Destino and La Travi­ata. (Mel­bourne will see Ballo and Aida.)

In time for the Verdi bi­cen­te­nary, Sharmill Films is screen­ing re­cent pro­duc­tions of Ballo and Aida from New York’s Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera. The ter­rific cast in Ballo (at se­lect cinemas Jan­uary 12 and 13) features Marcelo Al­varez as Gus­tav, Son­dra Rad­vanovsky and Dmitri Hvoros­tovsky, with Fabio Luisi con­duct­ing. David Alden’s pro­duc­tion lo­cates the drama in early 20th-cen­tury Swe­den.

The Met’s Aida (Jan­uary 26 and 27) features Li­ud­myla Monastyrska as Aida, Olga Boro­d­ina as Am­neris and Roberto Alagna as Radames, with the enor­mous New York stage be­ing given over to Egyp­tian pageantry.

Set the mood for all that Ver­dian drama with the real-life story of ob­scure English com­poser Havergal Brian and his Gothic sym­phony, a grandiose com­po­si­tion last­ing two hours and in­volv­ing two cho­ruses, brass bands, or­gan and an over­size orches­tra. It was said to be cursed be­cause of the dif­fi­cul­ties Brian had in get­ting it per­formed. Curse of the Gothic Sym­phony (ABC 1, De­cem­ber 30, 10.15pm) tells Brian’s story and fol­lows the first Aus­tralian per­for­mance of the sym­phony in Bris­bane in 2010.

On Christ­mas night, pay-TV

arts chan­nel Stu­dio is show­ing an au­di­ence-par­tic­i­pa­tion ver­sion of Han­del’s Mes­siah from Toronto’s Tafel­musik Baroque Orches­tra and choir (Stu­dio, De­cem­ber 25, 8pm). Aus­tralian au­di­ences may have seen Tafel­musik when the en­sem­ble toured for Mu­sica Viva ear­lier this year. If you pre­fer your Mes­siah in a more con­ven­tional per­for­mance, tonight Stu­dio is show­ing a per­for­mance from the choir of King’s Col­lege, Cam­bridge (6pm). The 2009 per­for­mance com­mem­o­rated the 800th an­niver­sary of the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge, and the 250th an­niver­sary of Han­del’s death.

For a mu­si­cal treat that will last all sum­mer, con­sider one of the bud­get-priced CD box sets on the mar­ket. They typ­i­cally in­clude about 50 CDs and rep­re­sent some of the land­marks in recorded mu­sic.

The All-Baroque Box from early mu­sic la­bel Archiv, for ex­am­ple, in­cludes John Eliot Gar­diner and the Mon­teverdi Choir in vivid ac­counts of Mon­teverdi’s Ves­pers of the Blessed Vir­gin and Bach’s Mass in B mi­nor. An­other set from the Philips la­bel in­cludes Valery Gergiev’s blis­ter­ing Rite of Spring, Colin Davis’s es­sen­tial Sym­phonie Fan­tas­tique with the Con­cert­ge­bouw Orches­tra and Ce­cilia Bar­toli in Rossini’s Sta­bat Mater.

For hard­core Christ­mas mu­sic ad­dicts, the ABC has a ded­i­cated dig­i­tal chan­nel stream­ing sea­sonal mu­sic un­til De­cem­ber 26. ABC Ex­tra’s Clas­sic Sea­son (abc.net.au/clas­sic) has a fes­tive playlist of fa­mil­iar carols, sa­cred mu­sic from across the ages and the favourite Aus­tralian Christ­mas songs The Three Drovers and Carol of the Birds.

Those Aus­tralian songs were writ­ten by two ABC staff mem­bers, Wil­liam James and John Wheeler, and pub­lished in three sets in 1948, 1954 and 1961. A Can­berra writer, Philip O’Brien, has found an ex­tra song in the ar­chives of the Na­tional Li­brary that could point to a miss­ing fourth set of the carols.

The song called East­ern Stranger refers to an Aus­tralian Christ­mas — ‘‘ ’ Twas Christ­mas Day, the sun shone bright, I walked abroad in golden light’’ — and a mys­te­ri­ous vis­i­tor from the East, a ref­er­ence to Christ. O’Brien sug­gests the song may be part of a col­lec­tion do­nated to Syd­ney’s Way­side Chapel in 1976. There are no known plans to per­form East­ern Stranger this Christ­mas, but it would make an at­trac­tive ad­di­tion to mid­sum­mer mu­sic of­fer­ings next year.

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