Young singers in full voice for opera allsorts

20 June 2023

With 16 soloists, a 37-piece orchestra and a wonderfully varied repertoire, this opera gala is worth singing about, writes Penny Shaw.

Opera Gala, Music on the Terrace 
Government House Ballroom, 18 June 2023

This concert of epic proportions opens with OpusWA Arts Orchestra’s vivacious rendition of the overture to Die Fledermaus. The slight unevenness in intonation and articulation soon irons itself out as the orchestra settles under the baton of artistic director Mark Coughlan and concertmaster Paul Wright.  

Singing with an orchestra, to a full house, in a grand venue like Government House Ballroom is an invaluable if intimidating experience. Seasoned professionals are billed alongside students; the difference that those extra years of study and performance make is seismic. I feel it would be helpful for the audience to know a little bit more about each of the singers, but time is of the essence.  

Soprano Avalon Gatenby has the unenviable task of singing first, but after a slightly shaky start she treats us to some shimmering high notes in Puccini’s Chi il bel sogno di Doretta. Mezzo-soprano Adele Cole sings Orfeo’s famous aria Che faro senza Euridice, showing her warm lower and middle registers, while soprano Charis Postmus is a spirited Marzelline, delighting in every word of the German text, if occasionally overpowered by an orchestra clearly enjoying their Beethoven.   

The first of the baritones arrives in the shape of Lachlan Higgins with his wonderfully suave Belcore from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, followed by soprano Samantha Deykin, who gives a moving rendition of Spontini’s O Nume tutelar from his opera La Vestale. Sian Bussanich is a delightfully sassy Despina, performing Mozart’s Una donna a quindici anni; another terrific aria not often heard in concert. 

Chelsea Burns and Tom Buckmaster perform the only duet of the night. Photo supplied

Mezzo-soprano Olivia Ferguson is a lovely Sibel, growing in confidence throughout her aria, while tenor Noah Humich’s flamboyant Witch from Hansel and Gretel, sung in English translation, is a real crowd pleaser. From Humperdinck to Handel, and Erin McCrystal’s clean coloratura sparkles in Tornami a vagheggiar from Alcina.  

It’s great to see tenor Tom Buckmaster and soprano Chelsea Burns fully inhabit their roles as they perform the only duet of the night, O soave fanciulla from Puccini’s La Boheme, and we leave the ballroom with Burns’ beautifully controlled top C ringing in our ears.  

Act 2 opens with Offenbach’s overture to Orpheus in the Underworld, any residual murmuring from the audience halted by Michael Hodgkins’ divine clarinet solo and finishing with a rousing can-can.  

There are four more sopranos in the second half, all excellent and all completely different. Audrey Lombardi has a delightful stage presence and an impressively consistent tone throughout her range as she sings Mascagni’s Son pochi fiori from L’Amico Fritz. Rachael Lui’s articulation sounds effortless as she negotiates one of Mozart’s formidable concert arias, while Georgia Mercer is a charming Adina, her refined soprano highlighted by the pizzicato from the strings in proper bel canto style. An animated Burns returns to sing Si mi chiamano Mimi, clearly relishing the chance to open up her voice, letting it soar above the orchestra and fill the ballroom.  

But it isn’t all about the sopranos. Bass Jake Bigwood, one of West Australian Opera’s Wesfarmers Young Artists, is a commanding Aleko, and it is wonderful to hear the full orchestra let loose on Rachmaninov. Buckmaster shows his substantial potential in the Italianate repertoire with a short but powerful aria from Giordano’s Fedora and mezzo-soprano Caitlin Cassidy charms the audience as a deliciously sensual Dalila.  

All in all, it is a terrific way to spend a Sunday afternoon. My only small criticism is the harsh down lights at the front of the stage, which give the soloists a ghoulish look. It is not until the finale, as the whole chorale files onto the balcony to sing Va, pensiero from Nabucco, that we can finally see their faces.  

As I leave the ballroom, I feel sure I am not the only one curious to see where these talented young singers go next. Watch this space! 

Piano Magic, the next Music on the Terrace concert, will be at Government House Ballroom on 6 August 2023.

Pictured top: Ashley Lombardi has a delightful stage presence and impressively consistent tone. Photo supplied

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Author —
Penny Shaw

Penny is an opera singer/cabaret artist/MC/podcaster/writer/director, in fact a self-confessed 'slashie' with a degree in Human Sciences from Oxford University. As a child she loved the the heady terror of a fast roundabout, as a mother of four children she hates swings.

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