Reviewer rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

THE Premier's up-all-night fest kicked off in glorious style with Victorian Opera's annual gala, adroitly conducted and presented by the company's new artistic director, Richard Mills. The only thing resembling a white night was the Prelude and Bridal Chorus from Act III of Lohengrin - but Wagner and Verdi (200 years apiece this year) predominated.

This gave Mills, Orchestra Victoria, the VO Chorus and various singers a chance to strut their stuff. Chief among them was Lisa Gasteen, who beautifully and carefully sang three of Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, "When I am laid in earth", from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, and two Richard Strauss songs. At the end of the night, a fan in the front row handed up to Gasteen a diamond ring: astonishment all round, but well deserved, I say.

Jose Carbo, a second-to-none Verdi baritone, was dignified and riveting in arias from Un Ballo in Maschera and Il Trovatore, while mezzo soprano Liane Keegan earned the endurance award of the night, not only for her impassioned Adalgisa, from Bellini's Norma, but for her cameo roles in extracts from Peter Grimes, Cavalleria Rusticana and Die Fledermaus. Her Pollione in the Norma duet, Carlos E. Barcenas, is a tenor worth watching.

But it was Mills' night. With authority, and infectious delight, he has managed to put his stamp on Victorian Opera. If this happy and fulfilling night was any indication, Melbourne is in for a treat.