Five minutes with Valer Sabadus

Valer Sabadus will grace our shores for the first time this August for one night only. Enjoy this short interview conducted with the countertenor ahead of his visit.

valer crop blog interview.jpg

1. What have been your favourite roles to play? What do you think makes a good role for a countertenor?

My favourite roles in opera are above all the ambivalent roles, whose music and libretto can inspire, beguile and shock all at once.

Among them is undoubtedly Nerone in "L 'incoronazzione di Poppea" by Claudio Monteverdi for his equally strong drama in the libretto and music, as well as the real-historical reference to Emperor Nero.

While I was rehearsing this role, I always wondered: What went wrong in the education or childhood of this highly talented and megalomaniacal tyrant and neurotic, that he forces his best mentor and philosopher Seneca to suicide and later drowns his own wife Ottavia on the high seas?

I just think it is incredibly exciting and fascinating how Monteverdi deals with this "evil character" without simultaneously blaming with the wagging finger of the moral apostle and wanting to judge him. Maybe that's why he originally intended this role for a high castrato and not for a profound bass?!

Other roles that liked singing include the Orfeo of Gluck, the Sesto and Cherubino of Mozart, the Ruggiero, Rinaldo and Serse of Handel, and Irina from Peter Eötvös’ "Tri Sestri".

All these roles combine a sincere, passionate, sensitive, self-sacrificing and strong character who is ready to go to the utmost to fulfil his or her principles and duties.


2. Would you describe yourself as a high countertenor or a low countertenor? What's the difference?

I would describe my voice as a mezzo-soprano countertenor, because my slightly dark-coloured voice and vocal range correspond more to the ambitus of female mezzo-sopranos singing today. In the extroverted Baroque-Era, where the most beautiful and exquisite repertoire was reserved for the castrati, the rather staid countertenors were employed only in the spiritual repertoire. Therefore, there was no explicit separation between the individual countertenor types. This special typification of low, middle and high Countertenors only came up in the course of historically informed performance practice in the mid-20th century.

It is curious that even the pioneer of falsetto singers, Alfred Deller, did not even know at the beginning of his career that he was a countertenor.


3. What happens to a countertenor voice as you gain more experience?

For me, more experience means above all, giving the voice the time to develop further!

As mentioned before, my voice colour has become a little darker and more corporeal over time, and my vocal range has shifted slightly downwards. 10 years ago I started as a soprano countertenor and could even sing top C! Thank God I do not need that today because our repertoire is large enough and extends across a greater period. It has also been historically proven that even the voices of castrati changed over the course of their careers. Since the special technique of high singing constantly exposes you to danger, I try to keep my voice as safe as possible. After all, our vocal cords can’t be changed as freely as the strings on a violin. Due to greater experience, this awareness of owning something special is also felt more strongly in my body and soul.


4. Do you have a favourite composer? Why?

It would be too hard for me to choose only one. I count my "Big Five" favourite composers as undoubtedly Handel, Vivaldi, Bach, Gluck and Mozart. They have always accompanied me faithfully from the beginning of my singing career, and their ingenious compositions - sacred as well as secular in nature - have broadened my musical horizon and educated me to become a mature musician and human being.

On the other hand, I also love quiet, devout moments of silence and contemplation- the intimate songs of John Dowland and Henry Purcell, whose repertoire and unique sound language - originally intended for countertenors - have always touched me deeply.


5. What's left on your 'must-do' list? Any particular roles/ festivals/ concerts?

I once had such a ‘must- do’ list firmly anchored in my head. Although this list is important at the beginning of your career and supports your own ambition, sooner or later you will find out that not all points lead you to the actual goal.

Of course, I would like to work more often with contemporary composers and librettists, to create a special role profile, which represents me as a versatile singer and artist. Also, there are certainly still some roles in baroque music that have not been rediscovered yet, that I would like to sing, but I like to be surprised and not overly constrained by my own high expectations.

Personally, I find it much more important to travel, to discover new countries and people, to combine music and culture. That's why it personally feels like the greatest privilege to come to Sydney, at the other end of the world, to make my debut as a countertenor!

 See Valer Sabadus in concert on Sunday 25 August at 5pm, City Recital Hall.

Gallery- The Return of Ulysses

“Pinchgut Opera is a national treasure”


Australian Stage said that ‘Pinchgut Opera is a national treasure. This wonderful opera is hardly known in Australia, and to have it so completely brought to life is a gift of enormous proportions.’ Read the rest of the review here.

Limelight awarded four-stars, calling the work ‘a vital, utterly humane drama.’ Read the rest of the review here.

The Sydney Morning Herald also awarded four-stars, calling the opera a ‘A bare-footed gem of delight'. Read the rest of the review here.

Arts Hub gave four-stars, stating that ‘Pinchgut Opera once again delivers a triumph’. Read the rest of the review here.

These photos were taken by Brett Boardman at our June 2019 production of Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses.

Five minutes with Lauren Lodge-Campbell


On her entry into the classical music world…

When I finished high school, I wanted to be a jazz singer. I auditioned for the Queensland Conservatorium for both the jazz program and the classical program and I got in to both programs. I was then faced with the hardest decision of my life, but I chose classical and I’ve never looked back!


On returning to Australia…

I definitely miss Australia. This is the first time I’ve sung opera professionally in Australia, and it’s good to be here. It’s interesting to see how differently people work - there’s that easy-going nature that people talk about and I can definitely feel it. There’s no pretence, but maybe that’s a Pinchgut thing! It feels good to be home. 


On working on Ulysses…

It’s a really lovely cast and crew, a really nice bunch of people. Chas’ idea for the show is that it’s an ensemble piece, so we're all involved in the show all the time. In Monteverdi’s music there’s not as many solo arias - there are characters on stage all the time and it’s more text driven, which means there’s a more ensemble atmosphere. 


Lauren was recently accepted into Les Arts Florissants prestigious young artists program…

Le Jardin des Voix is the young artists program and it’s unique in that you’re not there the whole time - it's more freelance. This is the first year they’ve done a full opera rather than excerpts and it’s a little bit different because they’re doing Mozart, rather than earlier work as is usually the case. 

 I auditioned about a year ago for that in London, and it was a long process. Luckily, it went well and I start in August. I’ve heard from friends who’ve done it that it’s really good and should be fun.  We rehearse in France, and then perform at a festival in Thiré and then tour around Europe and to Hong Kong. Hopefully, this leads to greater things!


On the similarities between Pinchgut and Les Arts Florissants…

Les Arts Florissants built a niche- they were the first ensemble to work with early French repertoire, and now Pinchgut has built that niche in Australia. Everyone I’ve spoken to in the early music world overseas recognises and knows Pinchgut- it definitely says a lot about the reputation of Pinchgut not only in Australia but internationally. 


On coming full-circle…

I remember we would sometimes run little errands for my singing teacher, and once I was asked to pick up a Carla Zampatti blouse for her. Last week, I was gifted a Carla Zampatti dress after performing at a Pinchgut Soiree at Carla’s home. It was this really special moment where it felt as though I’d come full circle… and the dress is gorgeous!

See Lauren in action in Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses

13-19 June, City Recital Hall

Gallery- The Return of Ulysses Costume Inspiration and Sketches

Some thoughts from the artistic team on the inspiration for Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses

The Return of Ulysses is the story of one man’s journey to reclaim his home, and a cast of characters desperate to outrun mortality. For the character of Ulysses, home is a sensation, a moment in time, a memory as well as a specific place. It’s an epic physical journey of one man, but one that is made of many emotional vignettes.

A feeling of anticipation is at the heart of this opera, and we play into that with our setting and staging. The setting transcends time and space, holding the performers in a time bubble, or in air. We want an equal feeling of reality and unreality. This is a story about people, and we will be playing with the theatrically of humans, rather than special effects. We’ll be exposing everything, playing with the notion that people and props can be one thing in the hands of one person and someone/something else in the hands of another. A table is a table until it’s a chariot, until it’s a boat.

The Return of Ulysses is an exposition of the human heart with all its faults and triumphs. The humanity of the story is asking to be told in a simple and direct way enfolding the audience in the journey. It is a powerful and emotional journey and we can’t wait to share it with you.

Below: Costume inspiration and sketches by Melanie Liertz

Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses

13-19 June, City Recital Hall

Gallery- Bach and Telemann in Concert

“Another winner”



We've enjoyed glowing reviews for our weekend performances of Bach and Telemann.

Bachtrack awarded five-stars, saying “And of course all praise to Erin Helyard for bringing it all together. The triumphant and joyful conclusion of the Easter Oratorio prompted rapturous applause from the capacity audience.“ Read the rest of the review here.

Limelight said that 'all aspects of this enterprise are to be applauded', awarding four-stars. Read the rest of the review here.

The Australian made special mention of the upper-register voices. "Oomens shaped Seele, deine Spezereien into a dreamy arc of anguished beauty, while Dowsley glowed exultantly..." 

The Sydney Morning Herald said that 'the Pinchgut achievement... was confident and engrossing to witness' also awarding 4-stars. Read the rest of the review here.

Classic Melbourne observed that ‘Pairing the Thunder Ode with Bach’s Easter Oratorio was an inspired piece of programming.’ Read the rest of the review here.

ArtsHub awarded four-and-a-half stars, saying that the ‘singing by the five soloists was exceptional’. Read the rest of the review here.

Photo Credit- Albert Comper

Georg Philipp Telemann - A self-taught musical genius

"A good composer should be able to set public notices to music."

Georg Philipp Telemann



It now seems hard to believe but Telemann was considered the greatest living composer for much of the first part of the 18th century. He wrote in virtually every major musical style, and composed well over 3000 works – more than Bach and Handel combined.

The son of a Lutheran deacon, Georg Philipp Telemann was born in Magdeburg (Germany) in 1681. He showed remarkable talent in music mastering keyboards, the double bass, the flute, the oboe and the bass trombone after only a couple of weeks of lessons. After the death of his father, his mother put an end to his musical ambitions, confiscating his musical instruments and sending him off to school. However, he continued to study in secret and composed his first opera by the age of 12. Telemann entered Leipzig University in 1701 to study law, but music once again took over. The mayor of Leipzig commissioned him to write for the city’s two main churches, and in the following year he was named the director of Leipzig Opera. Over the next three years he wrote more than 20 operas and was so prolific that the music director of a neighbouring church petitioned to have him removed. This dispute was settled by Telemann accepting the position of Kapellmeister to Count Erdmann in Sorau, now part of Poland.

Erdmann’s tastes ran to French instrumental music, and over the next three years Telemann wrote roughly 200 French overtures. A second, unhappy, marriage having driven Telemann into financial ruin and he then accepted a better paying position with Duke Johann Wilhelm of Saxe-Eisenach, concentrating on concertos and instrumental music. While in Eisenach, he met J S Bach and became godfather to C P E Bach. Bach and Telemann remained friends for life. A position in Frankfurt followed, where he began to publish his own compositions.

In 1721 Telemann received an offer from the city of Hamburg to become musical director of the city’s five main churches. This was the most productive phase of his career, as he wrote two cantatas for each Sunday, music for ceremonies and music for church consecrations. He also gave public concerts performing his own music, and initiated a series of weekly public concerts running from November until March. And since he still had some spare time on his hands, he assumed directorship of the Hamburg Opera, performing his own operas as well as those by Handel and Keiser.

He was offered (and declined) the Cantor of the Thomasschule in Liepzig, a position which was later taken by J S Bach. He remained in Hamburg for the rest of his life, and by the last decade was writing treatises on music theory, and at least three separate autobiographies. Troubled by various health problems and failing eyesight in his last years, Telemann was still composing into the 1760s. He died on the evening of 25 June 1767 from what was recorded at the time as a chest ailment. He was succeeded at his Hamburg post by his godson, Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach.

18th-century critics unanimously considered him among the best composers of his time. Leading theorists held up his works as compositional models, and his fame extended to England and throughout Europe. Yet by the early part of the 19th century his music was disappearing, as was Vivaldi’s; dismissed as a polygraph who wrote too many works. It was not until the 1980s that his music has once again been recognised for the genius that it is.

See Telemann’s work in concert in Sydney and Melbourne

Bach and Telemann

6 April, Melbourne Recital Centre

7 April, City Recital Hall

Read more at:

Five minutes with Fernando Guimarães

Baroque stalwart Fernando Guimarães is preparing to return to the role of Ulysses, one that earned him a slew of critical acclaim including a Grammy Award nomination. Find out more about Fernando in this short interview.


How does it feel returning to a role you're so familiar with?

It’s actually a quite interesting experience, as everything is indeed extremely familiar to you and each note carries with it memories from past productions, specific requirements from past conductors, one or two body movements worked with past stage directors… But, on the other hand, tackling a role again after a few years makes you realise how much one has changed as an artist or even as a person: when you go back and listen to an old recording of yourself doing the same piece, it’s very surprising to realise that a LOT has changed and that you chose several different musical options. Therefore, every reprisal of a role ends up being a completely different experience, which makes it even more exciting.

What can you tell us about the dramatic arc that your character goes on during the opera?

The character of Ulysses, in this opera, is much more than the archetypal Greek hero (although that IS indeed a big part of what he is). He can be ruthless or even borderline evil, when slaying Penelope’s suitors; he can be sly and cunning, when exploiting the possibilities of his old-man disguise; he can be comical and even silly, when confronting Iro; and he can be irresistibly tender and charming, in his final scene with Penelope. In this character is contained a surprisingly broad spectrum of human emotions. This was, in my opinion, the most “real” character ever written in opera until that point.

Does your preparation routine change when you're approaching a role you've performed before?

Approaching a role I’ve done before is actually quite comfortable, as you don’t have to worry as much about memorising everything. It all comes back to place quite easily, so the biggest challenge is not to let your body rely completely on “muscle memory” and freshen up the mental and technical approach of the role. It’s a permanent work-in-progress, no matter how often you’ve sung it before. Also, you have to be ready to change a lot of your “pre-defined” ideas about the role, as it all will depend on the work you’ll do with each new conductor and stage director; one has to be prepared and flexible enough to make whichever changes are required. 

Do you think there are any lessons for a modern audience in Ulysses?

I think the biggest “lesson" that one can take from it is that not much has actually changed since the time of both Monteverdi and Ulysses himself… Humanity continues to experience and explore the emotions of love, fidelity, perseverance, vengefulness, deceit, lust, and so on, in the exact same way as we’ve always done since the beginning of it all. The details and context have changed, of course, but the core emotion is the same in Sydney 2019 as it was in Venice 1639 or in Ithaca BC.

Fernando Guimarães in Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses

13 - 19 June, City Recital Hall

Five minutes with Anna Dowsley

Anna Dowsley will feature in our upcoming Bach and Telemann concert, playing in both Sydney and Melbourne. We sat down with Anna for five minutes to catch up on her life in the opera world so far and what’s to come.


On early introductions to the world of music…

Anna’s introduction to classical music first began at the age of four when she started playing piano. A primarily solitary pursuit, she sought something a little more social and so decided to audition for her school’s choir. Anna recalls the first time she performed with the choir, “The first time I went on stage it was like when you put on a glove and it’s just like ‘oh. That really fits.’ I just remember feeling that this wasn’t so much easy, as just ‘right’, and that this was my way of finally expressing myself. When you don’t have public speaking and you don’t have writing to express yourself, you have music. “


On making the switch to Opera…

As a result of her enjoyment of choir, Anna decided to pursue music at University. She thought that combining something more ‘useful’ like a history degree with her music degree would put her in better stead for the future, although she quickly dropped down to just a single major- music. 

“I ended up just dropping down to a music degree, and the love of opera came from there. I had a great teacher and tutors, including some people from Opera Australia, and past great singers. I saw my first Opera at 17 and I still wasn’t like ‘yes! This is what I want to do’ but it was a growing fascination with the art form... Opera has all the things! The language, the acting, the costumes and the history lesson that you get and such great literature and poetry. It’s just the ultimate combination of art forms. And then I came into my early twenties and thought ‘okay… let’s give this a crack’.”

Anna recalls the formative conversations had between herself and the teaching staff and mentors around her. “There was lots of encouragement, and reality chats as well, people coming in to say ‘it’s unlikely you’ll get a career out of this’, but I remember the best advice we got was from Cheryl Barker saying ‘just remember this feeling of how much you love it’ because times will get tough and things will get hard but you just need to remember this feeling. And it’s so true. I remember the first time I sung for an audience, I remember that feeling. A lot can get in the way when it’s not just a passion, but a career, so you’ve got to remember that childhood love, and take it with you.”


On the distinct challenges of this repertoire…

For Anna, the main challenge with singing oratorio or in concert is the lack of a distinct character. “In this circumstance, the challenge is that it’s not opera itself. There’s no distinct character, you don’t have that escapism that I love when you’re onstage. Obviously, you have the words and the text that take you to that other place, but it’s different.”


The music of the baroque also presents a unique challenge for a singer well-versed in twentieth century opera “Especially with Bach, it’s very intricate music but I love it, I’m really drawn to it.  I’ve got a maths brain and it can be quite mathematical in a way and you sort of have to learn it in that intricate rhythmic way.”


On working with Pinchgut again…

Anna stepped in during the early stages of the Artaserse rehearsal period to set scenes for Mandane, the role then played by Vivica Genaux. Of her time working with the team, Anna says that she “had a great time with Pinchgut last year. It was the perfect introduction to a company I’ve wanted to work with for years. I’ve always seen productions and thought ‘wow they do such interesting stuff’. They were all very warm, both the administrative staff and Erin, and Chas the Director. It was a great introduction in that I wasn’t thrown into the deep end. It was a nice warming up- I got to do rehearsals and then to meet Vivica!”


On where she’d be if she weren’t a singer…

Anna reflects on her time as a student fondly, and supposes she would end up back there if she could no longer be a professional singer. “If I completely decided the world on stage wasn’t for me anymore I’d probably go and be a student again because I do like studying. That’s the best part of this career, every day you’re learning something new, you’ve got a thousand new scores to learn at one time. So I’d be a student, I’m just not sure what of. Definitely not science- probably to my parent’s dismay. Just be a student! Do a PhD and see from there. Who knows?”

Anna Dowsley in Bach and Telemann

Melbourne Recital Centre, 7pm Saturday 6 April

City Recital Hall, 5pm Sunday 7 April

A note from Erin Helyard


I’m delighted to announce that I’m a Sydney-sider again, returning to this beautiful city to live after a 16-years absence. I’m back to take on a more dedicated role as Artistic Director here at Pinchgut Opera and in fact I am typing this now in my newly renovated office here at our spaces at The Opera Centre.


I have been a full-time academic for the last seven years and I’ve lived in three cities. After completing my PhD in Montreal I moved to Wellington, and then to Canberra, and finally to Melbourne. It has been unexpectedly emotional for me to now return to the city that I last left as a resident when I was 25 years old. Although I have enjoyed my time in the university sector, it feels incredibly liberating to be pursuing my dreams now as a fully-fledged creative spirit in artistic leadership of a company that is going from strength to strength.


Our next project brings us into new territory. Soon we explore two of my favourite baroque works: Telemann’s Thunder Ode and Bach’s Easter Oratorio. Both of these celebratory works are scored for exactly the same festive orchestration and we are additionally presenting the works in the format that Bach and Telemann originally heard them in: one-to-a-part.


Telemann was one of the most innovative and imaginative composers of his generation. I remember a professor of mine once referring to him as a “staubsauger” of styles—this is my favourite German word: dust-sucker or vacuum cleaner. He was famously inspired by folk music: “I once heard 36 bagpipes and 8 Polish violins playing together,” he wrote. “It is impossible to imagine the fantastic musical ideas they presented between dances when the dancers rested and the musicians improvised music together to fill out the time. Anyone who paid very close attention could pick up in 8 days sufficient musical ideas to last a lifetime. In short, in this music there is much that is good if you know how to work this material properly.”


Telemann’s Thunder Ode was written in the same year as the great Lisbon Earthquake, a terrifying catastrophe that shook Europe to its core. Rather than responding with a work of lamentation, Telemann’s work is rather a hymn to the awe-inspiring forces of nature.


Unlike its counterpart the Christmas Oratorio, Bach’s Easter Oratorio has no narrator. But four characters are assigned to the four voice parts: Simon Peter (tenor) and John the Apostle (bass), appear in the first duet hurrying to Jesus' grave and finding it empty, meeting there Mary Magdalene (alto) and "the other Mary" (soprano). This work has one of my favourite slumber arias of the 18th century: “Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer.”


I’m thrilled to be back in bustling Sydney with its beaches and fine weather and I’m excited to be nearer my friends, my family, and my dear colleagues at Pinchgut and in the wider music community. Say hello if you see me around!

Erin will conduct our Season 2019 opener, Bach and Telemann.

Melbourne Recital Centre, Melbourne, 7pm Saturday 6 April

City Recital Hall, Sydney, 5pm Sunday 7 April

Artaserse Rehearsal Gallery

Hasse’s Artaserse looks and sounds truly luscious. Photographer Brett Boardman captured these images during the late stages of the rehearsal period at the opera centre.

Hasse’s Artaserse at City Recital Hall

29 November - 5 December 2018

Artaserse Rehearsal Gallery

Enjoy this behind the scenes look into our rehearsal room for Hasse’s Artaserse.

Hasse’s Artaserse at City Recital Hall, 29 November - 5 December

Five Minutes with Chas Rader-Shieber

Chas Rader-Shieber is a Pinchgut stalwart, back to direct Vivica Genaux in Hasse’s Artaserse. Candice Docker sat down with him to discuss his craft, career and what makes this piece so quintessentially baroque.

Chas Rader-Shieber directing Pinchgut’s production of L’Amant Jaloux in 2015

Chas Rader-Shieber directing Pinchgut’s production of L’Amant Jaloux in 2015

You’ve worked with Pinchgut three times already, and it’s quite a long way to travel. What inspires you to brave the commute?

This is my fourth Pinchgut show and then I’m coming back in May for number five (David & Jonathan (2008), Giasone (2013), L'Amant Jaloux (2015), Hasse's Artaserse (2018) and The Return of Ulysses in 2019). I come here for a number of reasons. I like to work, I enjoy my job, and sometimes even more important is the environment in which I work, and this is really a favourite company of mine.

I love the idea of the company, I like the people who make it happen, I like the sensibility of it. Pinchgut is a company which is about ‘yes’ first. It has a great love of and belief in its mission, which is very rare. Plus, it’s Sydney! It’s my favourite city. The people are the sweetest people I’ve ever encountered anywhere, and it’s gorgeous, there’s great cultural life, it’s a great food town, it’s great for walking, it’s just a great city.


After working with the artists for a week now, has anything surprised you about the production?

Working on a production is always surprising. You can think about it for many months or years as you plan a production, and then you get to that last intense part of the process, rehearsing with singers in those weeks before a production, that’s really the tiniest portion, percentage wise, of the making of an opera production.

Everything that happens that you didn’t think was going to happen is a big surprise in comparison and those are the surprises you want- the things that you didn’t think of that someone else does that makes things better. To that effect I am completely dependent on casting. I can only do a portion of the production- it’s a group effort. It’s a been a lot of ‘just me’ for a long time and now is time for it to be ‘me with other people’, and that’s the delicious part.


Is this process of collaboration unique to your directing style?

I don’t spend a lot of time sitting in on others directors work, but I would say that the art form requires collaboration. Not even a benevolent dictatorship, it just can’t be a dictatorship. Although that does happen, even with collaboration there are moments of that, I try to avoid that as much as I can.

In the beginning, someone says ‘Hey, do you want to direct this opera?’ It’s one person alone in a room with a score, sometimes a recording if you’re lucky, just studying and seeing if that’s a piece that intrigues you, if that’s a piece you have something to say about. And then you add in the person whose taking charge of the musical side of things. That’s not my business, but it’s my business to collaborate with the person and, you know, I adore Erin, and we’ve worked together many times and so together we start to talk about the production. Now there’s two people. Opera company administration is then involved, and we’re writing contracts, casting, but the big growth of collaborators happens in that rehearsal period- Where all the people I’ve been dealing with join with the people who’ve been studying on their own, hoping to collaborate.

You can study a scene all you want by yourself then all of a sudden you’re in a room with the other person who you’ve been having this imaginary conversation with for weeks, months or years, and then there you are, the servant with a million masters. Singers are amazing like that.


You’ve directed a range of operas, from La Traviata to The Coronation of Poppea, but baroque opera is a bit of a specialty of yours. Are there any challenges unique to the form?

I’m not 100% sure I made it a personal specialty, it just kind of happened, and I’m really happy about it. Early in my career I started doing a lot of baroque opera. It has kind of stopped me from doing other things sometimes- people don’t want to see me doing things beyond that repertoire, but I’ve pushed through that a little bit.

What’s special about baroque opera? A million things. I am drawn to the idea of structure- they are heavily but beautifully structured pieces. Sometimes I feel you can’t push at the envelope unless you have an envelope, and there’s a very specific envelope that baroque opera presents to you. Aria form, a specific style of recitative, those things are set and they are about offering limits to the creative mind.

Limits beg to have pressure put upon them. You can’t look at a wall without wanting to manipulate it, push at it, climb over it or knock it over in some way, and that process is just joyous for me. If you know you’re going to have a da capo aria, trying to figure out how to move through it have it not stop the action but forward the action, trying to change the nature of how we hear one structure over and over again in the course of an evening, so that the audience should never feel the sameness of structure, that’s the challenge. It should be inspiring to know that you’re hearing a structure you’ve heard before but in a different way, and then in a different way again. That’s the fun bit and the challenging bit.

Artaserse is a story about royals and nobility. What is there in this story for a modern, Sydney audience?

When you recognise that the people on stage are like you in some way, you recognise that the things they say are the things you say, and the way that they think, the emotional arcs of those characters, are the same as for you, it’s easier for us to see ourselves on stage- which is really the job.

Especially in baroque operas, the themes are so spectacularly clear. There’s a limited set of ideas at work, especially when you get to the 18th century pieces. You’re dealing with the struggle of the age of reason, to figure out ‘how do we temper emotion?’, and ‘how do we tame nature?’ and ‘how do we find balance?’, and balance, and balance. That is our enlightenment, is to find that balance. It’s an ongoing activity, we do it every day.

When we end up in a problem with somebody, if someone is getting off the subway as you’re getting on, the animal in us wants to just push them or hit them. Sometimes, you have a bad day or you’re frustrated, one wants to act out because we’re animals, but we don’t because we’re a specific kind of animal. I don’t mean to simplify the age of enlightenment to learning not to push someone on the subway, but I do think that that part of us that is animal in nature that is based on survival.

We temper those things and we call it society and mores and ethics, and that is a noble and wonderful thing that we do. We struggle every day to embrace that. These characters would love nothing more than to take one another out when they present with a problem. In fact, this all starts when one of them decides to do that, and it’s a horror that he does it. The ramifications of that are huge in this piece. It’s a perfect example of a baroque opera and what baroque opera has to tell us now.

See Chas’ work in action at Hasse’s Artaserse, 29 November- 5 December at City Recital Hall

Artaserse- Set and Costume Inspiration

“We will see a lush and extravagant world with chandeliers, flocked wall-paper, marble floors and ornate costumes. Picture a contemporary setting, left purposely ambiguous in terms of time and place, yet clearly in a house of royalty and the height of privilege”

Enjoy this insight into the imagery inspiring designer Charles Davis as he works on Artaserse, and a sneak-peek at some costume sketches.

Hasse’s Artaserse plays at City Recital Hall from 29 November - 5 December.

Helyard talks Hasse

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Artistic Director Erin Helyard on what makes Hasse’s Artaserse a great choice for Pinchgut…

Artaserse was not only one of the most popular libretti of the eighteenth century but it was also one of the most broadly influential for a wide range of composers and performers. Written by the great Pietro Metastasio and first set by Vinci in 1730 in Rome and then by Hasse in Venice in the same year, the plot of Artaserse focuses on the conflict between public duty and private desire. The substantial tensions at play – and alleviated only in the final climactic scene – allowed composers and singers to bring their significant gifts into play.

Both Hasse and Vinci’s settings of the stories received an extraordinary amount of revivals in subsequent decades and indeed – and most unusually for the genre of opera seria – it became something of a classic. Certainly Hasse’s spectacular Venetian setting established his international fame. It also launched the career of Farinelli, who created the role of Arbace and performed Hasse’s arias wherever he went for the rest of his performing life. When Hasse had to mount an opera in Dresden in 1740 for the Saxon crown prince Friedrich Christian’s return to Dresden from Venice, what better choice than a revision of his great Venetian success. This time, Hasse turned the work into a star vehicle for his wife, the renowned Faustina Bordoni. He revised his 1730 version and added 12 new arias: five of them are for Faustina in the role of Mandane. Although Hasse’s 1730 Artaserse  has been performed and recorded, the Dresden 1740 version (presented here by Pinchgut) has never been revived in modern times, nor recorded. Here I play the part of the composer Hasse, conducting at the keyboard, and Vivica Genaux plays the role of Bordoni, in the role of Mandane!

But this is work I adore, as I feel much closer to the composer and librettist...

It has taken me many, many months of work to transcribe the Dresden score into a workable edition. But this is work I adore, as I feel much closer to the composer and librettist and of course fast become an expert in the opera itself. I’m delighted to welcome back to Pinchgut David Hansen in the “Farinelli” role – I knew David as a young student at the Sydney Conservatorium and I’m thrilled to have witnessed (and in also in some small ways been a part of) his phenomenal career. We both share a deep and abiding love of opera seria in this period and together with Vivica Genaux – who is quite simply the greatest advocate of Hasse and one of the most phenomenal virtuosi on the planet – I can’t wait to begin rehearsals on this very special opera from 1740, presented here for the first time after a silence of 278 years!

Hasse’s Artaserse plays at City Recital Hall from

29 November - 5 December

Handel's Athalia Performance Gallery

Enjoy this gallery of images taken at our June 2018 production of Handel's Athalia.

Athalia Rehearsal Gallery

Enjoy this sneak peek at what goes on in our rehearsal room. See the finished product at Handel's Athalia at City Recital Hall, 21-26 June.  Photography by Robert Catto.

Five Minutes with Emma Pearson

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The vibrant Emma Pearson will play Queen Athalia in Handel's Athalia this June. Emma sat down with Candice Docker for five minutes to chat about her role, experiences with opera and what audiences can expect from this Handel offering.

On her role as Queen Athalia…

I’m quite happy to be playing a despotic, regal character again- I’ve played the Queen of the Night quite a lot in the past, and I enjoy the challenge of co-ordinating difficult singing with performing in the large costumes and fantastical scenery. For the role of Queen Athalia, I guess I’m still trying to decide which path to take. Handel’s music and the text from Jean Racine and Samuel Humphreys have created a really complex character. She is the only female monarch to be mentioned in the Bible and as I learn her music I feel like Handel respected her for that and wanted us to feel for her.  With Erin and Lindy’s help I’m trying different personalities and with each scene, slowly working out my take on Queen Athalia.

On the ephemeral quality of Opera…

Some themes that operas are based on never change- they’re as current and relevant to audiences now as they have always been. A political story like this one, where a tyrant is usurped is always going to be interesting to audiences, maybe even cathartic.

The voice lets other people share emotions and when people come to the opera, I think, they want to feel empathy and be swept away by the characters’ emotional journeys. I also think people enjoy the glamour of opera and seeing how perfectly we can fine tune an artistic pursuit. It takes a lot of training and many years to produce an opera singer. I think people appreciate that we haven’t just rolled out of bed and started singing. When trained musicians, performers, designers and directors come together they can create something transcendent.

On working with a team of (mostly) women…

I think women coming to watch Athalia will really appreciate the predominantly female creative team behind this production. The costumes, the care taken around the romantic scenes, the battle between the two strong female leads and all the relationships between characters will be believable for the majority of the audience.

On working with Pinchgut Opera…

It’s been really wonderful. I’m thrilled to work with all the experts here. I’ve been admiring this company from afar, in Germany thinking ‘gosh I’d love to work with these guys’ and finally, I am!

See Emma bring Queen Athalia to life. Handel's Athalia at City Recital Hall, 21-26 June.

Athalia - Set and Costume Inspiration

Director Lindy Hume and designer Melanie Liertz are collaborating for the first time on our production of Handel's Athalia. They recently presented their concepts for the set and costume design for the production.

The pair see the story of Athalia as a construction of opposites- good and evil, innocence and guilt, sensuality and puritanism. The heavy, imposing structure of the set contrasts with the earthen costumes of the characters in this way.

For this production, the chorus is designed to be seen as a crowd and not as individual characters- in this way, the chorus should form an extended part of the architecture. Their costumes are modern and minimalist, understated in their construction and in deep earthy tones.

Here is a collection of images showing the inspiration for some of the costumes, and some preliminary design sketches for our costume team. According to Lindy and Melanie, the idea behind the costumes is that they will be ‘theatrical, but not in an overblown way, except for one’. See if you can guess which costume is the ‘overblown’ one…

Click on the images below to scroll through the slideshow.

Book your tickets to see these designs come to life in Athalia.