How do you reinvigorate opera for today’s audiences whilst giving emerging young artists the chance to shine?
For the internationally acclaimed Australian baritone Peter Coleman-Wright AO the answer is simple. You reduce an epic opera to an hour and tailor it to the rising talents at Pacific Opera, where Coleman-Wright is Guest Artistic Director.
Pacific Opera will join forces with Willoughby Symphony Orchestra for its first “Pocket Opera” staging of Mozart’s comic opera The Marriage of Figaro at The Concourse in Chatswood on Saturday 27 March 2021.
Helpmann Award-winning Coleman-Wright insists the pared-back performances will convey the essence of the original opera without diminishing its vocal and emotional power.
“Due to the impact of Covid-19 the year has taken a very different turn, but it was important to give each young artist at Pacific Opera a role that suited his or her age and vocal development,” he said. “Obviously we could not perform five operas fully, so I reduced them to best suit the voices we had and to still provide a strong sense of the complete opera.”
Of paramount importance was ensuring that an appropriate and engaging vehicle be created to reveal the skills and craft of the young singers and show audiences how accessible and exciting the art form is.
“I do feel that we spend so much time, especially in the classical arts, trying to prove our worth and relevance. In my experience ‘dumbing down’ does not keep new audiences. It all begins at school. If young people are exposed to opera, classical music and art, then it would not seem so alien to them. It is also deeply tiresome that opera is deemed to be ‘elitist’. It really isn’t. It is the ultimate art form encompassing great singing and music, drama and dancing, and arresting visuals.”
Mozart’s 18th century comic opera of intrigue, misunderstanding and forgiveness is full of melodic invention, frantic flourishes and feverish characters who create, then navigate chaos. “My task was to keep the thread of the story whilst enabling each singer to understand their role and its respective journey,” explains Coleman-Wright. “I’m very keen that the action moves quickly between each scene, so the story is clear. The opera is about the class system and was quite revolutionary in that the lower classes can take on the aristocracy and win through wit, cunning and truth.”
Pacific Opera plans to set its version in the 1920s to convey a strong sense of the social divide and conflict, a world explored in the popular TV series Downton Abbey. “The opera leans well with the concept of upper and lower classes.”
Ultimately, The Marriage of Figaro is one of the great opera masterpieces and audiences respond to its pranks and pitfalls as well as its well-known arias and sparkling score. The Concourse, Chatswood, Saturday 27 March at 2pm & 7pm. Prices: Adults $54; Concession $49; Youth $25. Bookings: ticketek.com.au
The Pocket Opera is part of Chatswood’s cultural and creative events program 2021, an initiative of Willoughby City Council.