New year, new experience of fine music

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Published: 4th January, 2012

Ah, January. It’s that time when classical musicians go into hibernation and lovers of the genre hole up with their new CDs, or take their iPods to the beach. But wait! Not all is as it seems. A little digging soon reveals that this is the time fine music goes looking for new partners – and finds them. Not only do orchestras lend themselves to natural partners such as ballet and opera, they also introduce children to the delights of good music in specially written pantos and other shows. For instance Victorian Opera’s energetic Music Director Richard Gill has written both the story and songs for a new production of Cinderella. January is also a good time for young musicians, with aspiring performers heading for summer courses or music camps, the pinnacle being the Australian Youth Orchestra camp in Canberra. And string players of all ages and abilities are meeting for their 22nd year in succession in north-west Tasmania, to learn, rehearse and present a fine concert. Choirs may be in recess but not so singers. No sooner has the last carol tripped off their lips than they are found exploring new paths, craftily combining workshops with the country or beach escapes that are de rigueur for Australians as soon as the last shred of wrapping paper has been binned. It’s also a time that audiences stretch their appreciation of what fine music means, trying out gigs that stray into jazz or crossover genres, with “world music” covering not only the exotic, but also music that does not neatly fit into a category. All this not only satisfies the need to hear live music, but allows mainstream classical companies to be a little more daring in their programming throughout the year. But those who have a more conservative view of what “good music” entails are not completely neglected. Opera Australia cleverly draws in the summer tourists and whets the appetite of its regular subscribers by starting its 2012 Sydney season with no less than two popular operas in January. January is also a time to be planning your year’s listening – and booking for the big shows to secure the best seats. In the West, WA Opera has proclaimed 2012 the Year of the Diva, and is kicking off with a truly spectacular production of Elektra. In Adelaide, keep your eye on the Adelaide Festival’s plans for the grand Mass by Leonard Bernstein, to be staged in March by the State Opera of South Australia in association with Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Opera Queensland has discovered the power of combining wine and song (and women, in the form of sops and mezzos) in their plans for Opera in the Vineyard at Ballandean Estate. It isn’t until May but, as with all one-day events, you’ll need to book very early. Finally, unless you have a private yacht with an exceptional mooring, you’ll need to book soon for an exceptional opera performance – the Handa La Traviata beginning in March. Extravagant and devastatingly romantic, Guiseppe Verdi’s La Traviata is perfect for first-time opera-goers – and those who appreciate the genre. One of the greatest operas ever written, it’s a regular in all the great opera houses of the world. But this production is truly unique. From 24 March to 15 April La Traviata will be staged for the first time on a purpose-built shimmering stage on the waters of Sydney Harbour. The monumental production promises a 40-piece orchestra, magnificent sets including a nine-metre chandelier suspended above the purpose-built stage, beautiful costumes and dazzling effects. The audience will share the magic from a specially-built venue at Mrs Macquarie’s Point next to the Royal Botanic Gardens, with the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge and city skyline providing a spectacular backdrop. For details, see http://operaonsydneyharbour.com.au. Now that’s worth waiting for – and best of all, you can book from the beach!