HE PRESENTS THE STORY AS AN ALLEGORY OF POLITICAL POWER
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.
Kubrick’s above right, in punk couture