Opera AustraliaJuly 1986 to present
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THE AUSTRALIAN OPERA
|David Hobson at the Così fan tutte harpsichord|
The harpsichord has had an integral role providing accompaniment and direction from the rise of the opera in early seventeenth-century Italy, through Mozart and Rossini, to modern works like Richard Strauss’ Capriccio, Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, or Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
This is the continuing story of my involvement with Opera Australia, one of the world’s great performing arts companies.
In 1986, I was approached by Simon Musgrave, Music Co-ordinator of The Australian Opera as it was then known, to inspect and report on their harpsichord, a Zuckermann Flemish Double II with bone keyboards. The instrument was in poor condition and not proving reliable, with cranky keyboards and action, many soundboard cracks and the original tapered tuning pins replaced at some stage with inconsistently-angled zither pins. My quotation for substantially reworking the harpsichord—including structural repair, repinning, restringing and revoicing—was accepted. The results were judged so musically successful I was immediately asked if I would like to be further involved preparing the harpsichord for all needed rehearsals and performances in the Opera Theatre at the famous Sydney Opera House, taking over from my predecessor.
|Sydney Opera House at night|
My first production was The Marriage of Figaro in October 1986 conducted by David Agler. (The cover of the program book is reproduced below.) I’ve been involved in some way with all productions using early keyboards since then. I regularly tuned for Linnhe Robertson, who was then Head of Music at The Australian Opera and played continuo on her own harpsichord, a three-choir Flemish single made by Michael Johnson in England. If two instruments were required, it would be Linnhe’s Johnson and the TAO “Green harpsichord”.
The props department created a most pretty but silent harpsichord for the set of Göran Järvefelt’s production of Così fan tutte. The image of David Hobson seated at the instrument was used for the cover of the 1991 subscription brochure and much else. Sharolyn Kimmorley became Director of Music Administration and continued to enjoy playing harpsichord continuo in the pit for many years before she left to join the staff of the Sydney Conservatorium Opera School. Highlights of this period with Sharolyn included the simulcast and video recording of Don Giovanni on the ABC label, and a tour in May 1990 to Perth for a season of five Così fan tutte performances in His Majesty’s Theatre.
It wasn’t long before the work became more ambitious with different or additional keyboard instruments required. The late Christopher Hogwood spent substantial time in Australia, not only for the Opera, but also for the Australian Chamber Orchestra or Sydney Symphony. He hired a large clavichord for his apartment in Elizabeth Bay and wanted a nice Italian harpsichord for Paul Dyer to play continuo throughout his 1991 La clemenza di Tito: They chose my then almost-new 1990 Grimaldi. I’ve enjoyed receiving a credit line below Wigs & Wardrobe in the PLAYBILL programs, and usually on the nightly cast sheet as well when one of my instruments is used: The program and cast sheet from this show are reproduced below.
Baz Luhrmann set his production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in India after World War I, with the large orchestra squeezed in an onstage band rotunda. The orchestra, conductor and even the harpsichord tuner had to dress in band garb including beret. This was a challenging show to tune for: Not only was the floor of the rotunda directly above a shallow and foggy lake for the pink-painted Gobis to splash through, but the stage remained live during the intervals with crickets and other sound effects evocative of the Indian bush summer constantly playing. This captivating production toured to the 1994 Edinburgh Festival, where it had the reputation of being the first show ever sold out before the commencement of the Festival. Unfortunately, I wasn’t taken on that trip!
THE AUSTRALIAN OPERA / PLAYBILL
|Extract from La clemenza di Tito cast sheet, Friday July 19, 1991|
My 1983 Flemish harpsichord was played by Narelle French for Richard Hickox’s Julius Caesar in 1995, accompanying Yvonne Kenny and Graham Pushee—also simulcast and later released by ABC Classics. In 1996, the company changed name to Opera Australia. My Fortepiano has frequently appeared in the pit for various Mozart or Rossini operas, sometimes with conductors preferring to accompany the recitatives themselves. Trevor Pinnock used my 2003 Ruckers Double side by side with Benjamin Bayl on the OA harpsichord for Rinaldo in 2005, and gained the most prolonged ovation for any conductor with his performance of Handel’s virtuoso harpsichord obbligatos in the Act II aria “Vo’ far guerra, e vincer voglio”. A photo of Trevor at the two harpsichords in the opera pit appeared in an interview in the The Australian.
The music in the pit of the Opera Theatre is provided by the Australian Opera & Ballet Orchestra on modern instruments, and in many productions has been supplemented by baroque continuo specialists on theorbo, gamba or harpsichord. The AOBO itself does not have a keyboardist: The harpsichord is usually played by a highly-skilled repetiteur from the Music Staff of Opera Australia who has been closely working with the singers from the earliest stages of development of each production. Occasionally, we’ve had complete period instrument bands in the pit: The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra played for an early production of The Coronation of Poppea, and Antony Walker conducted the Orchestra of the Antipodes for the 2009 Baroque Masterpieces Double Bill.
As my overseas reputation grew throughout the 1990s, my commitments saw me traveling more and spending most winters in the Northern Hemisphere. During Sydney’s colder months especially, I’ve been fortunate to rely on the assistance of my deputies Mark Woodward or Colin van der Lecq from Perth to help fulfil the intense Opera Australia requirements.
This is a journey in progress, and I guess I might be already a little more than half way through. It’s not only the operas, but also New Year’s Eve Galas, the free parks concerts, singing contest finals and more. It has been a distinct privilege. Already the list of conductors of these productions is impressive: Graham Abbott, David Agler, Mikhail Agrest, Ivor Bolton, Richard Bonynge, Alexander Briger, Roderick Brydon, Brian Castles-Onion, Carlo Felice Cillario, Brad Cohen, Ollivier-Philippe Cunéo, Christian Curnyn, Jonathan Darlington, Richard Divall, Luke Dollman, Peter Erckens, György Fischer, Myer Fredman, Johannes Fritzsch, Richard Gill, Jane Glover, Andrew Greene, Marco Guidarini, Richard Hickox, Simon Hewett, Christopher Hogwood, Emmanuel Joel-Hornak, Julia Jones, Simon Kenway, Anthony Legge, Andrea Licata, Shao-Chia Lu, Richard Mills, Andrea Molino, Stephen Mould, Benjamin Northey, Trevor Pinnock, Julia de Plater, David Porcelijn, Carlo Rizzi, Alexander Sander, Patrick Summers, Ola Rudner, Guillaume Tourniaire, Antony Walker, Mark Wigglesworth, Tom Woods, Simone Young…
|YEAR||OPERA AUSTRALIA PRODUCTIONS|
|2018||Il turco in Italia|
|2017||[no operas using early keyboards]|
|2016||The Barber of Seville • Così fan tutte|
|2015||Don Giovanni • The Marriage of Figaro • L’elisir d’Amore|
|2014||Il turco in Italia • Don Giovanni • L’elisir d’Amore|
|2012||The Marriage of Figaro • Così fan tutte • The Barber of Seville|
|2011||The Barber of Seville • Partenope • Capriccio • Don Giovanni • The Love of the Nightingale|
|2010||A Midsummer Night’s Dream • The Marriage of Figaro|
|2009||Baroque Masterpieces Double Bill: Dido & Aeneas / Acis & Galatea • Così fan tutte|
|2008||La Cenerentola • Don Giovanni • Orlando|
|2007||Figaro • Alcina • Barber of Seville|
|2006||L’elisir d’Amore • The Rake’s Progress • La clemenza di Tito • Julius Caesar • The Marriage of Figaro|
|2005||Così fan tutte • Rinaldo • Don Giovanni|
|2004||The Marriage of Figaro • The Barber of Seville • Baroque Double Bill: Dido & Aeneas / Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda|
|2003||Don Giovanni • La Cenerentola • Rossini Double Bill: Il Signor Bruschino / La scala di seta • A Midsummer Night’s Dream|
|2002||The Marriage of Figaro|
|2001||Così fan tutte • L’elisir d’Amore • The Barber of Seville|
|2000||Julius Caesar • Idomeneo • The Marriage of Figaro • Capriccio • A Midsummer Night’s Dream • Don Giovanni|
|1999||The Barber of Seville • La clemenza di Tito • Rinaldo|
|1998||Così fan tutte • The Marriage of Figaro • The Coronation of Poppea • La Cenerentola|
|1997||La clemenza di Tito • Don Giovanni • L’Italiana in Algeri • Julius Caesar|
|1996||A Midsummer Night’s Dream • Alcina|
|1995||Julius Caesar • The Barber of Seville • Don Giovanni|
|1994||Idomeneo • A Midsummer Night’s Dream • Così fan tutte • La Cenerentola|
|1993||The Coronation of Poppea • A Midsummer Night’s Dream • Don Giovanni|
|1992||The Marriage of Figaro • Alcina • L’Italiana in Algeri|
|1991||Don Giovanni • La clemenza di Tito • Così fan tutte|
|1990||Così fan tutte|
|1989||The Marriage of Figaro • The Barber of Seville|
|1988||The Coronation of Poppea • The Rake’s Progress • Don Giovanni • La Cenerentola|
|1987||Alcina • La Cenerentola • Don Giovanni|
|1986||The Marriage of Figaro|
THE AUSTRALIAN OPERA / PLAYBILL
THE AUSTRALIAN OPERA / PLAYBILL
THE AUSTRALIAN OPERA / PLAYBILL
|The Australian Opera program cover for Figaro 1986||Title page from La clemenza di Tito program 1991||La clemenza di Tito cast sheet 1991|
|Harpsichords Australia Home Page|