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OA | TV: Opera Australia on Demand

A treasury of performance archives

J. Sutherland in The Merry Widow (1988) (© William Moseley)

With theatres dark around the world, a desperate search for “silver linings” to disrupt the flood of crisis reports has lead Opera Australia to launch a new venture – OA | TV – a free on-demand streaming service. After cancelling major Sydney and Melbourne seasons and postponing other activities, the company has grasped the opportunity to delve into its archives and bring to light some rare treasures from the past. Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini says Opera Australia have wanted to launch OA | TV for some time and having secured the right digital platform, the Covid-19 hiatus has given the company time to develop the idea.

Behind the project lies Opera Australia’s vast performance archive which features the world’s most extensive collection of performances by legendary Australian soprano Dame Joan Sutherland. Additionally, OA have produced a series of conversation “chat shows” in which Lyndon Terracini interviews and features artists associated with the company. Video recordings of open-air performances on Sydney Harbour showcase some of the company’s much-loved productions and lastly, there are also “behind the scenes” features giving insight into the preparations for various productions. New operas will be added each week and the web site offers an opportunity to sign up for notifications.

Opera Australia defies the trend of declining audience numbers to attract audiences of all ages. The cancelation of this year’s productions has devastated the company as much as its devoted audiences. This project is a welcome return to prominence by this premier performance ensemble. There will be many who will warmly recall the featured productions and the ever-expanding ranks of new audience members will gain the opportunity to experience something of the magic of previous shows.

The first performance fittingly features a gloriously voiced Dame Joan Sutherland in OA’s 1988 Gala production of Lehár’s The Merry Widow conducted by Richard Bonynge. Performed in the now named Joan Sutherland Theatre at the Sydney Opera House, it is an exceptional insight into her vocal technique, stage presence and magnetism. Certainly tastes have changed in the more than three decades since the performances and OA’s lavish new production of Widow for Danielle de Niese in 2017 caters more to contemporary likings. However, as a record of the qualities of greatness embodied in the illustrious career of “La Stupenda” Sutherland, this is a gratifying and rewarding document. For theatre aficionados, the web site also includes a complete theatre program from the performance.

The other full opera featured this week stars Emma Matthews as Violetta in the inaugural 2012 season of Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour. Conducted by Brian Castles-Onion, it was due to be revived in 2020. As new videos are added to the platform, existing offerings will continue to be available free to viewers.

It is heartening to see Opera Australia pushing ahead in this time of global shutdown. It is to be commended for its fighting spirit and we look forward to coming shows.


Gregory Pritchard



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