Casting Castor & Pollux – With a Little Help from Mozart

A special moment happened during The Pinchgut Opera’s 2010 production of composer Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809)’s L’anima del filosofo, Orpheus + Eurydice in the City Recitald Hall in Angel Place at Sydney. The whole audience quickly became aware of a moment of sheer beauty in a duet sung by the lovers Orpheus and Eurydice portrayed so brilliantly by soprano Elena Xanthoudakis and tenor Andrew Goodwin. Their voices blended in a moment of such perfection it felt like dying and going to heaven all at the same time. Based at Sydney The Pinchgut Opera, during its first decade has established a fine reputation for musical excellence and brilliance of execution in the works it has presented. That places it very high on any list of intimate opera ensembles of the world interpreting opera in a way that appeals and speaks to contemporary audiences. They have a particular focus on early music, respecting the traditions associated with original composition when re-interpreting it for the modern age. To play the role of Castor, in The Pinchgut Opera‘s 2012 presentation of Castor and Pollux, a very high tenor voice (haut-contre) is required. They have recently cast American Jeffrey Thomson, who has been based in Paris for the past few years.

The amazing high tenor voice Jeffrey has is strongly associated with all early Baroque style and classical works, including French airs, solo cantatas, courtly songs and choir pieces, at least until the latter part of the 18th century. In opera his is a voice mainly used in heroic and amatory roles, as well as comic parts by French composers like Jean Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) and Jean-Phillipe Rameau (1683-1764). This talented trio composed extensively for this voice style.

In the role of Téläire, the woman so beloved by both the legendary brothers Castor and Pollux, will be Australian soprano Celeste Lazarenko, whose ‘pitch perfect’* singing has recently created a great impression.

Opera can be funny, sad, scary, dramatic, mysterious, imaginary, or a combination of all of the above. To raise funds and assist their quest to secure all the singers of their choice for the 2012 presentation of the story of the ancient heroes Castor and Pollux, The Pinchgut Opera are holding a fundraiser at Sydney in June. For the entertainment they have a great cast of singers, who will take artistic licence with a mini comic opera written by legendary Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart entitled The Impresario (Der Schauspieldirektor). This marvellous piece is all about the trials and tribulations associated with mounting a performance of opera and so should strike a happy chord. Mozart, with his renowned sense of humour, would have been sure to approve of them all having fun at his expense.

A union of poetical and musical creative ability is not often found or accomplished however it abounded in John Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). He was enchanted by the sorcery of singing and it made him turn to the paramount form of vocal composition, opera.

The dinner show will feature Jonathan Biggins (of Wharf Revue fame) as the Impresario himself, Celeste Lazarenko and Anna Fraser (sopranos), Dan Walker (tenor), the conductor Erin Helyard and members of the Orchestra of the Antipodes. The orchestra play on authentic instruments and, in true 18th century style, the presentation will be sure to be (to use an authentic 18th century turn of phrase) a ‘great gaze’.

Jeffrey Thompson’s professional career commenced when he graduated from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and made his professional debut in Boston with the Handel and Hayden Society singing under the direction of legendary English conductor Christopher Hogwood in 2002.

He has worked since then internationally with many of the finest ensembles singing this style of music. Many in the know have attested to his vocal and technical mastery, and they are sure he is all set to dazzle Pinchgut audiences during his first visit ‘down under’.

A visual art major from the University of Sydney, Celeste Lazarenko is also a graduate of the Guildhall Opera course at London and the Sydney Conservatorium. Over the last seven years she has had extensive experience at home and internationally, singing diverse and difficult roles.

Since she returned home in 2011 she has been managed by Graham Pushee of Arts Management, himself a specialist in early music roles.

The production of Castor and Pollux chosen by co-Artistic Director Erin Helyard and Conductor Antony Walker, is a 1754 version of Jean-Phillipe Rameau’s work, which was first performed at Paris during a ‘pamphlet war’, known as the Quarrel of the Comedians (Querelle des Bouffons) that took place between 1752 and 1754.

This intriguing event gripped Paris in a thrilling debate about the merits of Italian and French music. From opera boxes to cafes, it seems everyone wanted to voice their opinion on what was a very touchy subject and many become involved in a war of words that had been brewing for some time.

The result the Pinchgut newsletter reports, ‘was ideal for a revival of the cool and austere beauty’ of Rameau’s original piece performed in 1737. In the ensuing years it had been modified both in story and style to adapt to the times and it was an amazing success that won a great many people over to the French musical style.

Erin Helyard also noted ‘there is an excellent recording by Les Arts Florissant of the 1737 version, but as yet, no compelling period-instrument version exists of the 1754 production. Consequently, given such an overwhelmingly positive experience to the 1754 revival, Antony and I have decided that this version – dramatically tighter and musically richer – is the version that The Pinchgut Opera should present’.

One of the great strengths of the Pinchgut Opera’s performances is the Orchestra of the Antipodes and the splendid Chorus, Cantillation both conducted by Antony Walker.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012

The Pinchgut Opera Fundraiser 2012
The Tea Room, Queen Victoria Building
Level 3 North End, 455 George St Sydney
Tickets for this three-course dinner are $240 per person.
Early birds (book before June 1) pay only $220.
Ticket price includes a tax-deductible donation of $120.

Pinchgut Opera Production Castor & Pollux By Jean-Phillippe Rameau
Diary Dates: Thursday 6 December 7.30pm Saturday 8 December 7.30pm Sunday 9 December at 5pm Monday 10 December 7.30pm
Where: City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney

Enquiries: Contact: Pinchgut Opera Phone: 02 9389 8117 or Email: [email protected]

NB This will be the first Australian production of this work.

* Francis Carlin Opera Now 2009

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