<i>Opera by Candlelight 2017</i>. Presented by Carl Rafferty. The Albert Hall. February 10 to 12. Tickets available for Friday at 6pm for 6.45pm, Sunday at 5.30pm. Tickets $80 includes champagne supper. Bookings: email@example.com or phone 0417 429 899.
Rising stars of opera will offer Canberra music-lovers a tour of old favorites and lesser-known pieces from the French and Italian repertoires at the annual Opera by Candlelight concerts at the Albert Hall.
Impresario Carl Rafferty has assembled a cast of young Australian and European singers – all in their 20s and early 30s - among them competition winners and European concert regulars.
"It will be an evening of opera highlights of well-known operas, with a smattering of lesser-known material, sung by a glamorous cast of singers," Rafferty says.
At the heart of the concert are highlights from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, the story of a woman who is forced into an arranged marriage, goes mad, and stabs her husband to death on the wedding night.
Rafferty's daughter Kate, a dramatic coloratura soprano who studied and lives in Vienna, will sing the Mad Scene, one of opera's most celebrated virtuoso showpieces.
The Mad Scene – in which the crazed Lucia sings to the accompaniment of a flute – is a specialty of coloratura sopranos, including the Australian divas Joan Sutherland and Nellie Melba.
Kate Rafferty, who has often performed the scene in festivals in Europe, will carry on Melba's tradition by singing the elaborate cadenzas that Melba's flautist, John Lemmone, composed for her. Eliza Shephard, a flautist who studied in Canberra, will come from Melbourne to perform the cadenzas.
"The flute represents the inner voice that's driving Lucia mad, as she's got this thing stuck in her head," Carl Rafferty says.
The Mad Scene is one of five excerpts from Lucia, which form a sequential story. The opera's other hit number is the sextet Chi mi frena in tal momento?, where the characters express their surprise and indignation when Lucia's lover gatecrashes the wedding.
"A bit of tragedy is always fun," Rafferty says. "This is the wonderful thing about Lucia: it's other people's troubles. And it has great tunes; it tells a story. The death and mayhem is fabulously entertaining. Even though it ends with three dead bodies, it's not a miserable opera."
The singers will perform other familiar pieces, including Puccini's tenor aria Nessun dorma and Verdi's Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco and rarer pieces from Verdi's early Attila, Bellini's La Sonnambula and Rameau's Indes galantes.
Rafferty spends two or three months in Austria every year casting his net for talent.
"I go to every competition and every concert that's going," he says. "That's how I find singers. If I think we can get on, I usually give them some coaching, maybe stage them in a concert over there, because we're also running our concerts there.'
His European discoveries include Colombian tenor Camilo Delgado Diaz, who appeared with Kate Rafferty in Hungary; mezzo Nicola Jelinkova from Prague, who has appeared in several of Rafferty's earlier shows; Polish soprano Marta Nowicka; and Maria Slavova, a Ukrainian contralto.
"For the Australian singers," Rafferty says, "it's a good chance for them to be onstage with people who are much more accomplished. In Australia, there's a very slow progression in singing, while in Europe they like them pretty complete by 23 or 24."
The Australians include Canberra's Alexander Clubb, who has sung lead roles in musicals and whom Rafferty expects to be a major international star one day. "He's a wonderful tenor who shows enormous promise."
Other Australians already have overseas experience. Thomas Strong won the 2014 Opera Foundation Australia Lady Fairfax New York Scholarship to study in New York. "He's a mighty singer," says Rafferty, "a real power tenor." Strong will perform the aria Vesti la giubba from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, a verismo opera about passion and murder in a theatrical troupe.
Putting the show together involves months of preparation and rehearsal. It takes Rafferty nearly three months to re-typeset the arias from faded plates. Singers spend up to six months learning their material and working with their coaches.
"There's a lot of time in coaching," says Rafferty. "The singers have to memorise, act and have their notes and their vocal technique; it's not quite as straightforward as just learning a song and getting up and going it."
To make sure the show runs smoothly, Rafferty has brought in coaches from Europe. In October, Giovanni Tarasconi came over from Rome to give the singers a month of intensive training in Italian.
A week before the concert, Claudia Visca – a soprano who performed with Plácido Domingo, José Carreras and Leonard Bernstein, and is now professor of voice at the Cologne Music Academy and the Viennese University for Music and Performing Arts – will arrive to polish the singers up for the performances.
Perhaps in a decade or two the singers will carry on the traditions of Melba, Sutherland, Domingo and Carreras by taking their artistry to the highest levels, performing at the New York Met and in the great houses of Europe.