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Sydney Opera House

Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour preparations

Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour preparations in full swing

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For Opera Australia’s Technical Department, the Sydney summer season is traditionally the busiest of the year. And Summer 2012 is set to exceed anything that the Company has experienced so far. Says OA Technical Director, Chris Yates: “Nothing that we have done so far compares with what awaits us in 2012, when Opera Australia presents La Traviata on Sydney Harbour for a three-week season starting 24 March 2012.”

It will be the first opera in Australia to be staged on a tailor-made stage built over the water off the Royal Botanic Gardens. Brain child of Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini, Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour is poised to join the ranks of the world’s most prestigious outdoor opera events: Aida at Luxor, Turandot in the Forbidden City and Opera at Lake Constance in Bregenz, Austria.

It is certainly the most ambitious production that Opera Australia has ever taken on. Over the three-week season, there will be 18 performances, with over 50,000 tickets on sale. OA is working with Events NSW on behalf of the NSW Government to attract audiences from across the globe. Yates says: “It’s the biggest single production ever attempted in Australia. We are looking at selling 20,000 tickets interstate or internationally, which is a whole new ball game for us.”

Sponsorship has been secured from the International Foundation for Arts and Culture (IFAC) under the auspices of Dr Haruhisa Handa. Thanks to it, and to funding from Events NSW, OA will be rolling out three seasons of Opera on the Harbour over the next years. “Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour is to be to Sydney what the 2013 Ring cycle will be to Melbourne,” Yates says. “It represents what Lyndon calls the ‘culture of place’. We’re a harbour city and the Royal Botanic Garden, with Sydney Harbour and the Opera House in the background, is one of the best open-air locations in the world.” 

By any measure, staging an $11-million opera production on a harbour is an ambitious undertaking.

When the idea was first put forward almost two years ago, the first and not insignificant challenge was to find the funding for it. Now that sponsorship has been secured,  tickets with prices ranging from $85 - $350 go on sale to the public on 4 July.

Securing a time slot for performances six nights a week for three weeks, plus a week of rain dates, took 10 months. OA is set to start bumping in on March the 5th next year and to open on March 24 2012. Performances will run until April 20.

Opera on the Harbour’s all-star creative team includes Emma Matthews and Rachelle Durkin as Violetta, Ji-Min Park and Gianluca Terranova as Alfredo, and Warwick Fyfe and Jonathan Summers as Germont. Francesca Zambello directs, Brian Thomson is set designer and Tess Schofield costume designer. The set design is complemented by a lighting design by John Rayment, through which scenes will be changed by means of colour, projections, dazzling light displays and fireworks.

Thomson began work on designing the set almost two years ago. Yates says: “Our aim was to create a sculptural element that sits on the water, with the cityscape and the Opera House an integral part of it.” In his office at the Opera Centre, he produces colour prints of Thomson’s stunning vision, a 32m X 24m platform resting on nine pylons drilled into the harbour bed, and supporting a giant, guilt-edged mirror – a poignant symbol of beauty withering and dying.

“Initially we thought the production would be staged on barges moored off the Royal Botanic Garden, but we quickly realised that it would not work – the water is too rough; the singers will get seasick.” Lighting and sound will be rigged on pontoons at the sides of the platform, detached from audience sightlines.

Suspended above the stage will be an enormous chandelier, nine metres high and rigged to a crane on the side of the platform. It will be made from light-weight material and adorned by crystals, and rumour has it that a soprano will hop on it and fly above the stage to sing the final aria at the end of Act I.

The production is to include 16 dancers, 12 actors, a matador, 40 choristers, 40 musicians, and party guests arriving by water taxi.”We’re pulling out all the stops – now that we’ve resolved the show’s massive engineering issues, it will be terrific!” Yates laughs.

As OA Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini says: “Opera is the most spectacular art form, and Sydney Harbour is the most spectacular cityscape. What could be better than combining these elements to create the ultimate event? Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour will become one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ events that you won’t want to miss.”