Ten years after the deservedly debt-ridden Victorian State
Opera disappeared, Victoria has a new opera company it can call its own, albeit
one with appropriately modest ambitions.

Richard Gill, the ebullient artistic director of the new Victorian Opera
launched the company’s inaugural program yesterday before a 200-strong crowd at
Her Majesty’s Theatre, where, as Robin Usher in The Age points out, Dame Nellie Melba sang her last recital in 1928.

The setting had me wondering whether this new company’s principal purpose
was to relive past glories. Let’s face it, the VO owes its existence to
Melbourne’s hurt pride over having to depend for the last decade on the
gradually shrinking opera seasons sent south by the Sydney-based and much
demonised Opera Australia.

However, leaving aside my many reservations about this venture – the chief
one being that it’s all about maintaining Melbourne’s self-anointed and always
dubious cultural-capital status – Richard Gill’s vision is impressive.

He’s unveiled a program that makes a virtue of his limited recourses – only
$7.6 million of state funding over the next four years and, so far, nothing
more than promises of private support.

This year, there will be only one full-scale, fully professional production
– Mozart’s crowd-pleasing Cosi fan tuti in August. The company’s first
production, Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, opening in late June, will be
youth-focused, involving 130 primary, secondary and tertiary students. The other
productions include: a “best-of” gala concert in July, trotting out a range of
favourite operatic hits; a recital of JS Bach’s St John Passion in September;
and a concert presentation of Brian Howard’s Metamorphosis.


The Age
‘s well-respected opera critic, John Slavin is dismissive of the
program
,
likening it to “a much-loved car that has stood idle for a long time in a dusty
garage. A lot of spluttering and backfire is taking place.”

That might be fair criticism if Richard Gill had the budget of an Opera
Australia. But given the limited funds available and the limited time (six
months) he has had to put it all together, Gill has delivered a a program that
caters to a range of tastes and can be delivered without the expensive trappings
that accompany the national company’s productions. He’s doing the best he can
under the circumstances. The old VSO failed because it didn’t know its
limitations, a mistake Gill is determined not to repeat.

Peter Fray

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