Speculation over Carmen connection behind the departures of Artistic Director and Chorus master

West Australian Opera is once again in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The company was recently heavily criticised for proposing a two year embargo on staging Bizet’s Carmen due to its depictions of smoking in an ill-judged attempt to curry favour with their new corporate sponsor, Healthway. Now it has been announced that the company’s Artistic Director Joseph Colaneri and Chorus Master Joseph Nolan will both no longer be working with the company after the current production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore closes on November 8.

WAO’s board has been quick to assert that the departures of American maestro Colaneri and his colleague, celebrated organist Nolan were mutually agreed months ago as the end of the current season marks the completion of Colaneri’s three year contract and Nolan’s one year contract with the company. However with the embarrassment of the Carmen ban still fresh in the minds of many opera fans in Australia, the departure of two senior artistic members of the company have left many speculating that the internal fall-out from this recent PR disaster may have played a part.

It is unusual for an Artistic Directorship to be so brief, with the tenure of the previous two incumbents at WAO, Richard Mills and Lindy Hume lasting 15 years and 10 years respectively. Neither Colaneri or Nolan have been available for comment on the situation, but eyebrows have been raised further still as to potential in-fighting behind the scenes at WAO as General Manager Carolyn Chard, in an interview in The Australian revealed that the board were “reviewing the structure of the company.” Colaneri and Nolan’s successors are yet to be announced.

To add to the company’s embarassment attention has been drawn to the presence of smoking in their current remount of Elke Neidhardt’s production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. According to WAO, Healthway have accepted the offending acts with good grace on the understanding that it was felt important to be true to the vision of Neidhardt who died of cancer earlier this year. While the irony has not been lost on some, it does appear that the smoking issue will be a rod for the company’s back for some time to come.

West Australian Opera will be hoping to put recent problems behind it, as the company is currently being assessed by the National Opera Review, led by Helen Nugent. The government enquiry has been convened to appraise the health of the four major opera companies in Australia, which include Opera Australia, Opera Queensland and State Opera of South Australia, and will be looking at these company’s artistic vibrancy and audience engagement. Despite the universal unpopularity of the proposal to remove Carmen from programming consideration until 2017, Chard has remained defiant about the decision. 2015’s program, the final season curated by Colaneri, is due to be announced November 14 and many are eager to learn if the Healthway partnership has resulted in any further artistic censorship. 

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