Acclaimed imports and co-productions make up the backbone of WAO’s next season.

It’s been a tough few months for West Australian Opera. The company attracted worldwide attention and unanimous scorn after announcing it would not perform Bizet’s Carmen because the opera’s depictions of smoking did not fit with the values of the company’s new sponsor, Healthway – the WA state health lobby. They were once again in the spotlight just weeks later after both the Artistic Director, Joseph Colaneri and Chorus Master, Joseph Nolan, resigned simultaneously. The sudden departure of the company’s senior artistic staff, although apparently for non-clandestine reasons, left many speculating that WAO’s decision to drop Bizet’s much-loved opera (and the embarrassment of the ensuing media-storm) was to blame for the walkout.

West Australian Opera have now revealed a pleasing, although rather conservative, 2015 season and as expected Carmen is nowhere to be seen. However, despite West Australian Opera’s General Manager Carolyn Chard making good on her promise to embargo Carmen for the next two years, there are still some treats in store for opera lovers in Perth next year.

Unfortunately for WAO, it is the last of Australia’s major opera companies to announce its 2015 offering, so the revelation that David McVicar’s excellent production of Gounod’s Faust will be coming to Perth has lost a little of its excitement since Opera Australia announced in September that they would be staging the same production in Sydney. Nonetheless it is an acclaimed staging being imported from London’s Covent Garden and with American tenor Patrick O’Halloran as Faust, Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Méphistophélès and Natalie Aroyan as Marguerite all confirmed, it will no doubt be a big crowd pleaser for WAO next year. 

David McVicar’s production of Faust

Australia’s favourite soprano, Emma Matthews and acclaimed West Australian baritone James Clayton will appear opposite each other in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. This production is again a revival, this time of Helpmann Award-winning director Neil Armfield’s much-loved staging originally created for Opera Australia a little under a decade ago.

Announced in early November as part of the unveiling of 2015’s Perth International Arts Festival program, much excitement has already been voiced for WAO’s planned staging of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. Another imported production from London, the company deserve high praise for bringing Anthony Minghella’s award-winning staging (originally created for English National Opera and New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 2005) to Australia. Minghella’s vision for this show is haunting, elegant and highly inventive – his use of puppetry (a reference to Japanese Puppet Theatre) is revelatory – so demand for tickets to this beautifully conceived production should be high.

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly

The only original work being presented during 2015 is another already announced collaboration: The Rabbits, a new children’s opera (although this is likely to be closer to musical theatre) which has been co-commissioned with Opera Australia. Australian singer-songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke has been charged with writing the new work, which is inspired by the John Marsden and Shaun Tan’s enchanting children’s books and will be presented as part of the Perth Festival in February.

West Australian Opera are presenting a season which draws upon some of the most exciting productions in Australia and abroad from recent years, and all of the company’s undertakings in 2015 will undoubtedly be immaculately presented and impeccably performed. The one question that does seem unanswered about next year however is how the significant injection of funds provided by Healthway (which has been the subject of much scrutiny since the announcement of the now infamous Carmen embargo) are being used to bolster the company’s output. 

Not one of the shows being presented by WAO in 2015 is original or entirely their own, and while there is of course great merit in championing tried and tested productions that have wowed audiences elsewhere, it does seem unfortunate that the company isn’t using the $400,000 investment from Healthway to create something unique to Western Australia. Only time will tell whether projects that are yet to be announced by WA Opera will be the beneficiary of these much sought after sponsorship dollars.

For full details of performance dates, ticketing and subscriptions please visit the West Australian Opera website.

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