From Broadway to La Scala

Greta Bradman, David Hobson, Lisa McCune, Teddy Tahu Rhodes
ABC 482 3700

Audiences applaud such compilations when four well-known (“popular”) singers are brought together, and a national tour is mounted, making the release of a disc of arias, duets and ensembles, an assured top-seller.

From Broadway to La ScalaMusical theatre selections are from The Sound of Music, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, West Side Story, South Pacific, Oklahoma and Carousel. From opera, we hear excerpts from The Barber of Seville, The Pearl Fishers, Carmen, and The Elixir of Love.

Best by far is the aria Largo Al Factotum, from The Barber of Seville with the splendidly grand and rich voice of Teddy Tahu Rhodes. As well, his Toreador’s Song from Carmen is another expose of fine vocal artistry.

He joins the lighter tenor voice of David Hobson in the wondrous Act 1 duet Au Fond Du Temple Saint, from The Pearl Fishers, in which the vocal ensemble is very satisfying.

Rossini’s Una Voce Poco Fa displays the widely acclaimed new voice on the operatic stage, Greta Bradman with all her richness in the low register and an ease and lightness in the upper realms. It is easy to see why Maestro Richard Bonynge, who in this recording conducts the English Chamber Orchestra, is championing Ms Bradman.

Lisa McCune gives so much joy in My Favourite Things from The Sound of Music. It is a sheer delight, as is her solo from Oklahoma, Oh What a Beautiful Morning.

The finest ensemble piece is You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel, even with these unequal voices at times. Individually, these voices have their own uniqueness and capacity to enthrall listeners, and I have no doubt that in concert or stage production, their performances would be enticing.

The harmonic setting of the duet, The Music of the Night, was somewhat odd, making one question why it was added at all. This is by far not the greatest rendition of this well-known song from musical theatre.

A similar curiosity arose with the opening track Hallelujah, an unusual take on this classic pop song by Leonard Cohen. Its first two verses were strangely conceived, but it settled and built effectively in McCune’s verse, and whilst Rhodes’s verse was good in itself, it was poorly mixed with the other voices. How does Cohen’s Hallelujah fit the Broadway to La Scala theme? A: Only with a stretch of the imagination.

Similarly, the inclusion of Nella Fantasia (a version of Gabriel’s Oboe with words) from the film, The Mission, seems again at odds, however, David Hobson’s solo here is perhaps his best, accompanied by the stunning voices of Cantillation.

A variety of orchestras (English Chamber Orchestra, Sinfonia Australis, but primarily the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra) gave this quartet of singers an authentic backdrop to enhance their performances further.

Joan Sutherland: Classic Australian Performances (2 CD set), ABC Classics 476 3963

In 2000 and 2001, ABC Classics released The Best of Joan Sutherland: Live from the Sydney Opera House, (Volumes 1 and 2) with the Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge. Ten years on, these two discs have been re-packaged in one box set as Classic Australian Performances.

Now a year since the passing of the greatest operatic soprano, these recordings are a priceless legacy of the supreme singing that came from Dame Joan. Words can barely describe the sense of wonder, passion and sheer excitement at experiencing the magic that is La Stupenda.

Spanning a 40+ year career, Sutherland made her first professional performance in a concert version of Handel’s Samson at the Sydney Town Hall, followed the year later with her first appearance in a fully staged opera of Eugene Goossens’s Judith at the Sydney Conservatorium.

From there it was onto London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and most of the great opera houses and companies of the world, including Glyndebourne, Vancouver, La Scala, San Francisco, San Diego, and of course the Sydney Opera House and Opera Australia.

Singing with the greatest singers (Pavarotti, Domingo, Milnes, Horne, Caballe to name but a few) and conductors the world over, her life and career was truly marvellous. Whilst mostly played out in Europe and America, Sutherland’s was a life in which she never lost her uniquely Australian qualities and sense of home. She sang in an estimated 265 performances of 23 different roles with the Australian Opera.

Along with her enormous recorded catalogue, these uniquely Australian recordings of live performances from the Sydney Opera House from 1976 to 1988 will remain as unique treasures in the opera world. They include Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (perhaps her most famous role ever), Lucrezia Borgia, The Daugher of the Regiment, Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, Bellini’s Norma, Verdi’s Il trovatore, Delibes’s Lakme, Lehar’s The Merry Widow, Strauss’s Die Fledermaus and Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites.

In these excerpts can be experienced Sutherland’s sense of drama through to her humour, as well as her stratospheric vocal range and unbelievable coloratura in all its glory!