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News: Virtual Victorian Opera

by Heather Leviston

Opera lovers have long had plenty of virtual options to feed their habit. To augment personal video collections, YouTube performances from major opera houses and minor teaching establishments have been available for many years. The recent upsurge in offerings from around the world has been almost overwhelming, so making wise selections becomes important. What Victorian Opera has created and curated should be at the top of your list.

In addition to some splendid recent performances from the VO archives, comes a most welcome initiative in the form of a fascinating series of interviews. The first Artists in Isolation interview features Australian superstar soprano Jessica Pratt. Scott Whinfield is as charmingly articulate and enthusiastic an interviewer as you could hope to meet, and it is partly due to his persuasive talents that those he interviews are willing to share information about their drastically reduced circumstances so generously. We are given a vivid insight into the way COVID-19 has impacted on the personal and artistic life of singers and how they are managing life away from the stage.

Since she stunned the operatic world with her European debut as Lucia di Lammermoor in 2007, Jessica Pratt has been feted in major opera houses and concert halls around the world. She has joined Nellie Melba and Joan Sutherland in being one of only three Australians to sing Lucia at La Scala. And yet, in the privacy of her home in Florence, her manner is so warm and unaffected, it is difficult to absorb the fact that she has starred with a veritable who’s who of preeminent conductors and associated artists.

There is also a remarkable lack of self-pity in the way she tells how one important engagement after another has been cancelled; the emphasis is on the simple pleasures of life as it is and an appreciation of her surroundings. From a whirlwind existence of never being home for any length of time she is now enjoying the advantages of not having to live out of a suitcase. And she has taken up cooking – with a passion – delighting in the irony of being someone without any interest in cooking when Maggie Beer created a dessert, La Dolce Jessica, in her honour to mark her debut at the Sydney Opera House.

Scott Whinfield’s self-confessed food obsession also features in the second Artists in Isolation chat. Australian bass-baritone Derek Welton managed to return from his former home town of Melbourne to his beautiful apartment (check out the ceiling!) in Berlin on March 9, just as the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic was becoming fully apparent. He received his Green Room Award for Opera: best Male Lead as Klingsor in Victorian Opera’s Parsifal via an online ceremony on April 6. It seemed to come as something of a surprise to him, but not to anybody who had witnessed his towering performance. Life in Berlin is very different from life in northern Italy. He is able to pick up his favourite takeaway dishes and even participate in socially distanced coaching sessions at the Deutsche Oper, where he continues to prepare the role of Wotan.

While we are eagerly awaiting next week’s chat, there is plenty more on offer from Victorian Opera, including one definite highlight where tenor Carlos E. Bárcenas gives us a tuneful (courtesy of the Overture to the Barber of Seville) reminder to keep safe with “Don’t touch your face”. Also available are excerpts from VO productions such as The Flying Dutchman, The Selfish Giant, Parsifal and William Tell,plus rehearsal interviews and footage from Salome.

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