In its first big opera production of the year, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music will take audiences back in time to the 1930s and the golden age of live radio plays. But there is a twist with two comical works, Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief and Mozart’s The Impresario, meeting on the same stage in an opera double bill over four performances in May.
One of the first operas written for radio, The Old Maid and the Thief premiered in the United States in 1939. It sets the scene for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s first double bill, which will see Menotti’s wickedly-funny production staged alongside Mozart’s humorous 1786, one-act German opera.
Stephen Mould, musical director and Chair of Opera Productions at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, describes the double bill: “While the two works are centuries apart, they both share a similar, mischievous thread that work beautifully together in a live radio opera.”
“We have all the elements and talent for staging an exciting radio drama that were so popular during the 30s and 40s. The big brassy band, the powerful singers and the lively theatrics typical of radio plays, will be revived by our orchestral musicians and opera singers,” he adds.
Set and lighting designers Elizabeth Gadsby and Alexander Berlage will recreate the world inside a 1930s radio studio, where the audience becomes part of the set as they play the part of a live studio audience. The Foley desk, where the everyday sound effects of clinking tea cups, creaky doors and running footsteps were made by Foley artists, also promises to be a special set feature.
“With no visual component, radio drama depends on great dialogue, music and sound effects to enable the listener to imagine the characters and scenes. Seeing these elements brought together in a live radio production where every second counts, is an exciting spectacle to watch,” said Stephen Mould.
Sally Blackwood will direct the 17-strong cast, accompanied by the Sydney Conservatorium orchestra conducted by Stephen Mould. The principal roles will be played by ‘the Con’s’ rising opera stars Alexander Knight and Andrew Williams, who share the role of Bob, while Corinne Parker and Audrey Gabor will share the role of Laetitia in The Old Maid and the Thief. Joel Scott and Daniel Tambasco will play the role of The Impresario, alongside Kathryn Williams as Madame Heartmelt.
Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief is best described as an American farce, dubbed by the composer as a ‘Grotesque Opera’. It tells the story of a ‘busybody’, Miss Todd, and her maid, Laetitia, whose hermetic small town world is turned upside down by the arrival of Bob, a handsome wanderer. Thrilled by his arrival into their lives, the ladies lavishly host and entertain him. However, it soon becomes apparent that Bob may not be who he appears to be, drawing all three into a web of lies and confusion.
Mozart’s The Impresario (Der Schauspieldirektor) takes an insider’s, sideways look at the world and tribulations of an opera impresario, as he attempts to establish a performing troupe. Hamstrung by competing prima donnas vying for his attention, and hoodwinked by the mercenary Mr Bluff, the Impresario must navigate his way through temperamental behaviour, bribery, mercenary misdemeanors – all in all, just an average day in the opera trade.
The Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s bi-annual opera productions have been a launching pad for the next generation of Australian opera stars. Soprano student Jenny Liu, who starred in the Con’s last opera in November 2013, is currently making her professional debut in the Australian musical production of The King and I.
Tickets: $50 adult, $25 concession
Bookings: City Recital Hall http://www.cityrecitalhall.com/ or phone 1300 797 118
Image caption: Cast members experiment with sound at the Foley desk during rehearsals for the upcoming 1930s radio opera at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Photo: Louis Dillon Savage.