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.

A Brief History of Handel's Athalia

 Georg Frideric Händel 1685 - 1759

Georg Frideric Händel 1685 - 1759

 Esther Denouncing Haman by Ernest Normand

Esther Denouncing Haman by Ernest Normand

Handel invented the English oratorio, more or less by accident.  He wrote Esther for the Duke of Chandos, most likely in 1720.  It was probably staged as a masque.  In 1732 Bernard Gates, Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal, obtained a copy, and staged performances in private music clubs.  Someone got hold of a further copy and in April 1732 a public performance of the work was advertised.  Copyright protection was non-existent, so Handel received nothing from these pirated performances.  He decided the best way to earn something out of the work, and to blast the pirates out of the water, was to turn it into a spectacular.  He expanded it, enlarged the orchestra, and incorporated the Coronation Anthems, music from the Queen Anne Birthday Ode and movements from his Italian works.  He imported his star Italian singers, and rewrote the music for their voices.  A contemporary commented that Senesino and Bertolli “made such rare work with the English tongue you would have sworn it had been Welsh”.  He probably intended it to be staged, but the Bishop of London forbade that.  It was a huge success.

Samuel Humphreys rewrote the original libretto, based on Jean Racine’s play.  Handel turned to Humphreys the following year for Deborah, presented as “an Oratorio, or Sacred Drama, in English” at the King’s Theatre on March 17th 1733.  In the same year, Handel received a commission to write a work for the Publick Act in Oxford.  He requested Humphreys for another libretto on a Biblical subject.  Humphreys adapted Racine’s play Athalie.  Handel completed the oratorio on June 7th 1733.  It received its premiere at the Sheldonian Theatre on July 10th.

Listen to this 1986 recording of Athalia, conducted by Christopher Hogwood and starring Dame Joan Sutherland while you read...

In Esther and Deborah, Handel was feeling his way, but in Athalia, he brought his experience of opera and of choral writing together to produce a towering work.  Handel produced his finest dramatic music when he could respond to a character.  For Queen Athalia he wrote music which elevates her into a great tragic character.  Other characters are sharply drawn, and Handel’s treatment of the chorus as integral to the drama is masterly.

When the oratorio begins, Athalia has been on the throne for some years.  According to the libretto, Athalia had murdered all possible claimants to the throne, but had missed one, Joas (Jehoash), raised under the name Eliakim as their son by Joad (Jehoiada), high priest of Yahweh, and Josabeth (Jehosheba).  The oratorio opens with Joad lamenting Athalia’s blasphemy.  All pray for deliverance from her.  At the palace, the Queen has a dream in which a young boy dressed as a Jewish priest plunges a dagger into her heart.  Mathan, the high priest of Baal, previously a priest of Yahweh, says it was only a dream but suggests she should have the temple searched.  Abner, Captain of the Guards, goes to the temple to warn, just as Joad and Josabeth are preparing to reveal that Eliakim is Joas, the rightful King.  Josabeth despairs at Abner’s news, but Joad tells her to trust in God. 

In Act Two, the Jewish people offer praise to God.  Athalia enters.  She sees in Eliakim the child who stabbed her in her dream.  She offers to adopt him, but he refuses to be associated with an idolator.  Athalia vows that she will have the child.  Josabeth is downcast, but Joad urges her to trust God.

 Athalia's Dismay at the Coronation of Joas by Soloman Alexander Hart (1806 - 1881)

Athalia's Dismay at the Coronation of Joas by Soloman Alexander Hart (1806 - 1881)

In Act Three, Joad prophesies Athalia’s downfall.  He and Josabeth tell Eliakim that he is Joas, the rightful King, and crown him.  Athalia orders the treason to be punished.  However, her forces have deserted her.  Athalia goes to her death defiantly, declaring that she will seek vengeance from the grave.  All praise the rightful King and the true God.

It is useful to know the backstory to understand the action of the oratorio.  Athalia is generally considered to be the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, king and queen of the northern kingdom of Israel.  Jezebel was Phoenician.  Her marriage with Ahab was probably to cement relations between their countries.  As a Phoenician she was a follower of Baal, and brought her religion with her.  She persuaded Ahab to erect altars to Baal, and eventually to follow her religion.  This led to conflict with followers of Yahweh, culminating in Elijah’s revolt.

 Athalia Questioning Jehosheba by Charles Antoine Coypel,

Athalia Questioning Jehosheba by Charles Antoine Coypel,

Ahab’s son Ahaziah succeeded him.  When he died without an heir, his brother Jehoram succeeded him.  Their sister, Athalia, brought up as a Baalite, had a political marriage, to Jehoram of the southern kingdom of Judah, who had secured his succession by murdering his six brothers. On his death, his son by Athalia, Ahaziah, became king.  Following the Battle of Ramoth-Gilead, King Jehoram of Israel, attended King Ahaziah of Judah, went to Jezreel to recover from wounds. While there they were killed by Jehu, who seized the throne of Israel, murdered Jezebel and the royal princes, then hunted down and murdered the relatives of Ahaziah.  As Queen Mother, Athalia was the most powerful woman in the land.  On Ahaziah’s death, she became queen, the only female monarch mentioned in the Bible.

History is written by the winners.  There is an alternative reading to Athalia’s story, as a political conflict between followers of Baal and those of Yahweh.  Elijah led a revolt which saw the priests of Baal killed, yet a generation later, the religious divide endured.  Jehu usurped the throne of Israel, ostensibly in the name of Yahweh, by murdering King Jehoram and Jehoram’s mother, Jezebel.  He also murdered Ahaziah, King of Judah.  The Bible records his murder of the royal princes of Israel and the “brothers of Ahaziah”.  Athalia would have been the grandmother of direct descendants and have a vested interest in ensuring her line was continued.  The survival of the rightful heir, brought up incognito by the High Priest of Yahweh, seems to be rather convenient.  However, he was a figurehead behind whom the followers of Yahweh could stage a coup d’état.

The music in Athalia was too good to waste.  In 1734, Handel wrote two works, Parnasso in Festa, a Festa teatrale or Serenata, and the wedding anthem.  This is the day that the Lord hath made, to celebrate the marriage of his pupil Anne, Princess Royal, to Prince William of Orange.  He recycled much of the music of Athalia into these works. The Serenata enjoyed great success and Handel revived it in several seasons. He was not to write another English oratorio for five years, when he produced one of the finest of all his compositions, Saul.

Written by Peter Jones

 Handel's  Athalia   City Recital Hall 21 - 26 June 2018

Handel's Athalia  City Recital Hall 21 - 26 June 2018

Poppea Rehearsal Gallery

As we enter the final weeks of rehearsals for Coronation of Poppea, we march toward one of the most anticipated productions ever staged by Pinchgut.  The passion and intensity of this monumental story is already evident, as these photos attest.

Click on each image to scroll through to see the entire gallery.

Photography:  Alex Smiles


Notes on Poppea

Pinchgut Opera brings Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea to Angel Place in 2017, to celebrate the composer's 450th birthday.

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 Helen Sherman and Jake Arditti in rehearsal as Poppea and Nero

Helen Sherman and Jake Arditti in rehearsal as Poppea and Nero

The Coronation of Poppea set a new trend, avoiding stories of the gods, and instead told a story of real people and events. The real Poppea was born in Pompeii in the year 30AD, and did marry the Emperor Nero and became the Empress of Rome. The story is about sex, violence and power and how they are used. It was a very relevant story then, and it is now. Mark, the director, and Charlie, the designer, have chosen to set this story in a time where these elements are just as important – our own time.


Amore (the god of Love and Desire) wants to prove that Love will triumph over Fortune and Virtue in the human world in a single day. Nero is in love with beautiful Poppea who is very ambitious. Nero wants to divorce his wife Ottavia and marry Poppea, even though this would be very bad for his kingdom. Seneca, Nero’s teacher, tells him that he must not divorce Ottavia, but Nero refuses to listen and has Seneca executed. Ottavia asks Poppea’s old lover Ottone to kill Poppea, but Amore saves her. Ottone is caught and confesses. Nero realizes that he now has a reason to divorce Ottavia. Ottone and Ottavia are banished and Nero marries Poppea. Love has triumphed by the end of the day.

 Nero and Poppea

Nero and Poppea

 Poppea Sabina by John William Godward

Poppea Sabina by John William Godward


  • Monteverdi shows off his new technique of using musical phrases and shapes that match the imagery of the text in the confrontation between Seneca and Nero (Act 1).
  • Nero’s vocal lines change mood from phrase to phrase, illustrating his psychotic nature.
  • Arioso laments are sung by Nero’s (ex-) wife and Poppea’s (ex-) lover.
  • There are many love duets, representing emotions from light-hearted flirting to serious declarations of love.
  • When Seneca dies we hear a chromatic madrigal full of tragedy and powerful music.
  • Look out for a beautiful and sensuous duet “Pur ti miro” between Nero and Poppea (Act 3). Note that Nero was originally written for a high castrato.
  • The Pinchgut ensemble features copies of stringed instruments that are over 300 years old.

A 16th century theorist (Artusi) criticized Monteverdi’s harmonic innovations and chord progressions; this led Monteverdi to describe a new style of music that he championed and that contrasted with that of an older generation. He called this new style the Seconda Pratica (or “Second Practice”).


Monteverdi was born in Italy in 1567.  He was a composing prodigy and published his first book of madrigals at the age of just 15 years. He lived a long life, and published many books of madrigals as well as writing several operas. His music was always forward-thinking and he was among the first to express deep emotions explicitly through music, expressing the meaning of text through musical concepts.

Monteverdi also wrote church music, and he brought his new ideas and compositional techniques to sacred music as well. He wasn’t afraid to repeat a phrase or word in vocal music in order to emphasise its meaning and make the music more elegant.

 Claudio Monteverdi

Claudio Monteverdi

Unusual Instruments: Coronation of Poppea

In the orchestra for Poppea you will see a number of instruments that we don’t often see any more even in baroque orchestras.  Two are slightly more usual instruments (the viola da gamba and the theorbo),  and two are very unusual instruments (the lirone and cornetto). Here’s a guide to these.

Lirone (or lira da gamba)

The lirone is the bass member of the lira family of instruments, popular in the late 16th/17th centuries. It is a string instrument played with a bow, has between 9 and 16 string, and a fretted neck. It’s held between the legs like a cello or viola da gamba. It has a flat bridge which means that it can play chords. This is it’s characteristic sound -  four- to six-note bowed chords, which player are able to control with (ideally!) all the same shades of colour and dynamic as if they were playing a beautiful melody on a violin. Other members of this family include the lira da braccio.

Laura Vaughan, who is playing the lirone for Poppea, wrote a lovely piece on the commissioning of the lirone when it was first played in our production of OrmindoYou can read this here.

You can also watch a video of Laura talking about the lirone here

Laura Vaughan on lirone.jpg

Cornetto (or cornett)

A cornetto is a conical wooden pipe, about 60 cms long, covered in leather. It has fingerholes and a small cup shaped mouthpiece. They are usually slightly curved and there are several different sizes, the most popular being the treble. It was much prized for it’s resemblance to the human voice (considered the most perfect of instrumets) and its heyday was the late 16th and first half of the 17th centuries. It is a difficult instrument to master; at it’s most popular it’s virtuoso players commanded impressive salaries and were very highly regarded, particularly for their ornamentation. It is not to be confused with the modern day cornet with which it has no connection.


Viola da Gamba (often called viols or gambas)


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The viol family existed side by side with the violin family from the late 15th century to the mid-18th century. Viols differ from violins in a number of ways – they usually have six strings (instead of four); their ribs (the sides of the instrument) are deeper; they are always played vertically, unlike some of the violin family which were initially rested horizontally against the arm, and were later tucked under the chin; and they have tied-on frets, like a guitar. The bow is also held differently – with the player’s hand underneath the hair rather than on top of the wood. They have a darker, more introverted sound than the violin family. There are four sizes of viols – soprano (treble), alto, tenor and bass. The double bass version is often called the violone, and this is what we are using for Coronation of Poppea.




The theorbo is a variation of the lute, with several extra bass strings attached to an extra pegbox halfway up the neck of the instrument. The most recognisable thing about the theorbo is its length – most instruments are around two metres tall or longer. Fourteen strings seems to be the usual number, though this can vary. The lute and its variants – the archlute, theorbo and chitarrone – were phenomenally popular in their time (from the middle of the 16th century to the middle of the 18th) and much extraordinarily virtuosic music was written for them.


Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea

30 Nov - 6 Dec

City Recital Hall

Director Mark Gaal on Poppea and working with Pinchgut - again!

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This is your 6th and a half production with Pinchgut (we have included when you stepped in during the final stages of Ormindo and the director couldn't continue).  What draws you to working with us and specifically collaborating with Erin, that keeps you coming back? 

There are rumours out there that opera is dead, that in five or so years existing companies will start closing their doors.  But Pinchgut flies in the face of this thinking – audiences are building, responding I think to the power of the live musicianship and receiving the Pinchgut ethos that there are operas that provide us with both entertainment and insight into our lives. Erin is as passionate as I am about making opera that both delights and surprises, and about finding stories within pieces from another time that can connect with who we are now. 


You've made a directorial decision to place the characters firmly in the 'here and now' with Poppea, I heard you mention 'not a toga in sight!'  Why did you do that and what do you hope the audience will take away from this Poppea? 

What's real about L'incoronazione di Poppea is music that cuts to the heart of human experience, and situations that are as murky and complex today as they were in Monteverdi's time.  Audiences can draw parallels between old worlds and now but sometimes the best way to release something like this is to let it intersect very directly with our own contemporary worlds.


Opera Australia did a celebrated production of The Coronation of Poppea which was many years ago, but which some of our audience may remember. Do you feel any connection to that production or any responsibility to reference it in any way? 

I have fond memories of Suzanne Johnston on a glossy red staircase – an astonishing design by Carl Friedrich Oberle. The production was referencing its own time – there was a context of corporate 1980s excess and of life as a cocktail party. There are other goings on in the opera that resonate with us today; we're now in a very different political and social climate, and the excesses and dangerous behaviours of the 21st Century necessitate that we take a dirty fighting spirit into the arena. There's no point in staging the piece unless we connect it directly to our own experience. 


What is your favourite thing about being in a rehearsal room?  How do you work with singers and also with your creative crew?  How do you get the best from your creative team on all fronts?

All of us, the musicians, singers, actors, the production and management teams, spend such a long time preparing for rehearsals, that once we're released into the rehearsal room, we're ready to let it rip.  I love the challenge of making sure that this intense creative environment moves forward collectively to a common goal.  The singers arrive note perfect and are hungry for information that lets them build their character and tell the story.  We all have our part to play in making an experience that thrills the audience, and that responsibility is not taken lightly by anybody.


Click here to read our blog about the images of inspiration Mark and set designer Charles Davis used to create their world for Poppea.  

Images of Inspiration for Coronation of Poppea

Here you will find a collection of images our director Mark Gaal and set/costume designer Charles Davis used to inspire them for this monumental and deeply passionate work by the great Monteverdi.

The design team will create a thoroughly modern world for Poppea, setting the action inside a concrete bunker.  These grey, industrial tones will be contrasted with hot pink neon lights that will bring a sense of vibrancy and energy of an inner-urban world.  Historically, the colour red has been synonymous with Poppea and indeed royalty in general.  Here the pink is most certainly a nod to this treatment while providing a twist on this convention. 

The characters Nero and Poppea, although they lived centuries ago, remain relevant in this contemporary, but flexible world.  They were Anceient Rome's version of our modern day celebrities.  Their position and popularity elevated them to a status within society, much in the way we elevate cultural characters to celebrity status today.    You might recognise some of the modern day characters Charles and Mark have used to draw their inspiration for costumes and characterisation.


Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea

30 Nov - Dec 7

City Recital Hall

Preparing for Poppea

Erin Helyard and mezzo-soprano and Helen Sherman, who will play Poppea, have kicked things off with a session together at ABC's Studio 227 in Sydney ahead of rehearsals which start November 2.  Here's a preview of the delights that await in our performance of Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea.

As we prepare for Poppea, here's another video to watch to help you get ready for this extraordinary event.  Here you will see Danielle de Niese and Philippe Jaroussky perform  "Pur ti miro".  For Pinchgut's performances, this exquisite duet will be sung by Helen Sherman and English counter-tenor Jake Arditti.  Enjoy!

Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea

30 Nov - 6 Dec

City Recital Hall, Sydney

Catch up with our Theodora Stars

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Valda Wilson (Theodora)

I had a year with a LOT of travelling:  back and forth to Australia three times for Theodora, then a circus opera in Sydney in which I sang while bouncing around in a bungee harness with acrobats, contortionists and a fire-breathing violinist, and Beethoven's 9th Symphony with Marko Letonja and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.   I was also singing Vitellia in Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito in Ulm, Germany - and was then asked by the same company to be their Aida for their summer outdoor production.  It's been a great year of contrasts.  Then a couple of big arena Carmina Buranas in Austria and Bavaria, and now I have started my position in the soloist ensemble of the Saarlaendisches Staatstheater where this year I'm singing Musetta, First Lady in Die Zauberfloete, and Fiordiligi.

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Caitlin Hulcup (Irene)

Caitlin has had a busy year with engagements taking her from Sydney in December 2016 to Perth, Hong Kong, London, Beijing and the Newbury Spring Festival in Berkshire in 2017. Also, Caitlin and her husband moved to Oxford, where she is started on vocal staff at the Royal Academy of Music London in August.


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Christopher Lowrey (Didymus)

For my part, I'm just about to start work at English National Opera on a revival production of Rodelinda singing Unulfo.  It's my dream to sing Bertarido one day, but Unulfo is also an amazing role and I know it will be a huge challenge.  In this production, he has a soft-shoe dance number on treadmills!  Simultaneous to Rodelinda, I'm going to be covering at ENO the role of Terry in Nico Muhly's brand new opera Marnie. It's been a year of brand new opera for me, as I worked on the premiere of Brett Dean's new opera Hamlet over the summer at Glyndebourne.  The Muhly is pretty challenging, but compared to Hamlet it's a nursery rhyme.  After ENO I'm singing some Bach cantatas at the Philharmonie de Paris with Ensemble Pygmalion.  Then in the new year, I'm singing Medoro in a concert performance of Orlando in London with La Nuova Musica, then heading back to Adelaide to do a revival of Hamlet with the whole Australian team (Brett Dean, Neal Armfield, Alice Babidge, Ralph Myers). After that it's off to the Göttingen Handel Festival to sing the title role in Arminio, and then I have two concert tours with Les Talens Lyriques, one of a strange version of Rinaldo in which I sing Argante, and then I'm doing Pergolesi Stabat Mater with soprano Sandrine Piau, one of my all-time heroes.  If all goes to plan we're recording it next autumn, and I'm excited but definitely shaking in my boots! 

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Andrew Collis (Valens)

Since Theodora, I have had a largely comic year with productions of The Mikado (in NZ), Ruddigore (at OQ), The Merry Widow (OQ/ Queensland Music Festival) and coming up are productions of Don Pasquale (SOSA/Elder Con. co-pro), a tour of Ruddigore and another Merry Widow. There is also a Don Giovanni coming up  at OQ and, on the serious side there was a Pearl Fishers early in the year and there is a QSO Messiah on the horizon (with Erin) and a Beethoven 9 next year  in Adelaide with the ASO.  So... hanging on grim death!