Philip Glass’ Akhenaten – Interview, Review and Pics

Akhenaten Interview, review Blain Crellin

Michael Gillies-Smith interviewed by Blain Crellin

In the beginning was the Source.

Akhenaten – meaning “living spirit of Aten” (God and Source) was a Pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt.

He ruled Egypt and the World surrounding  for 17 years and died Circa 1336 BC….. the Sun became the only Source and God according to Akhenaten … dispelling many other worshipped Gods of the time.

Akhenaten was the father of Tutankhamun.


Philip Glass composed the hauntingly eternal opera – which vibrated with chanting choral melodies … returning upon itself … and with the period costumes connected the listener to an age rediscovered.

The performance was held on the March Equinox 2016 in which UNESCO recognises as the day of cultural significance for humanity. The days and nights are equal across the Planet.

DSC_1998An ‘Opera on the Mountain’ was held just outside of Castlemaine (a 90 minute drive from Melbourne) in the Sutton Grange valley.

Mount Alexander is a strong spiritual centre for the local Aboriginal Jarra People.

The Jarra that night spoke about the area, the cleansing effect of the smoke ceremony and of the Eagles of which two flew overhead for much of the first half of the opera. This was a particularly spiritual moment – eagles connecting the sky with the performance, and the land with its inhabitants.


As the scene a for beautiful opera rose … the sun slowly set in time with the flux of an equally aligned Planet.

The performance was directed by Michael Gillies-Smith who also sang and performed along with Nicholas Tamagna


(Akhenaten) and Nefretiti who was sung by Sally Wilson who also performed this opera in the first performance of Akhenaten in Germany in 1984.

The choir was the Consort of Melbourne conducted by David Kram


The weather was a perfect 25 C, no wind, no flies, lovely wine and local food (cheeses) and a fabulous backdrop which totally enhanced the production.

A beautiful event ever to be remembered. Thank you.


Blain Crellin

(Interview. Photography. Review)

Wagner for Peter Mac Fundraiser




Act 1 Die Walkure  (From Wagner’s The Ring Cycle)
Stage Director: Julie Edwardson (Award-winning producer Opera Australia)
Music Director: David Barnard
Hunding: Michael Lampard, baritone
Siegmund: David Skewes, tenor
Sieglinde: Katrina Waters, soprano
Piano: David Barnard
Cello: Tony Prochazka 
Where: Melbourne Meat Market, 5 Blackwood St, North Melbourne
When: April 22, 23 at 7.30pm – doors open 6.30pm. Length – 1 hour
Tickets:   $35 -available from Eventbrite:
(glasses of wine, raffle tickets and donations can also be purchased).


With the return of the four part Ring Cycle  to Melbourne by Opera Australia beginning in December, this is your chance to take a peek at one of world’s longest, most complex, most controversial and most marvellous operas.

Die Walkure (The Valkyrie) might be most famous for the Valkyries’ ride, but Act one  contains some of the most memorable melodies and events in the whole of the Ring Cycle.

Act One presents Siegmund’s flight into the heartland of his enemies where he at once finds his name, the woman he loves and the cause he must die for.  Charged with suspense and mystery, Act One features two of the greatest love arias in the whole of the repertoire- Wintersturme and Du bist der Lenz.  If you don’t know the story, you will be on the edge of your seat every second.  If you do know the story, you will thrill once more to the suspense and the sweep of the music.

In Conversation With Carlos E. Bárcenas

photo by Timothy Treausre

Lucia-de-lamamourOpera, could it possibly be the grandest of all art forms? Grand not only in terms of sheer scale and spectacle, but of the narratives and stories that are most often explored, delving into the deepest realms of our emotional subtext, exploring love and murder, hate and vengeance. Victorian Opera once again delivers with their latest offering to Melbourne audiences the masterpiece Lucia di Lammermoor written by composer Donizetti’s in 1835, a time when romanticism “was on top” it’s a dark and somber classic that will open at Her Majesty’s Theatre on April 12th

At Horti Hall in Carlton, writer Jessi Lewis met with recent Green Room Award winner Carlos E. Bárcenas, who plays the lead role of Elgardo, they discussed his ongoing work with Victorian Opera, a shared love for the art form, and the resonance still held between classical works and contemporary audiences.  

Carlos, let’s start off, how did you come to be involved with Victorian Opera, and in your time with the company, what are some of those definitive moments that really stand out as highlights? 

I’ve been with Victorian Opera doing these gigs in chorus since 2008, I was interested in singing but I had another career back in Columbia. When I came to Australia and I started to audition for these companies, and when I came and auditioned for Victorian Opera they gave me these gigs singing in the chorus, after completing a bachelor in music, I then auditioned for my masters in Opera Performance and got into the course. The course was run by Victorian Opera and the Conservatorium at Melbourne University. I worked for two years as a developing artist with the company and was heavily engaged with their work.

In terms of my highlights, I guess each production has something special. My first solo thing that I did with Victorian Opera was the Master Peter’s Puppet Show, and it was at the beginning of my masters and also the first time I was doing a leading role; having that responsibility was really exciting at the start of my masters. It wasn’t a big a show but it was enough to get me there. Then when we did productions like The Flying Dutchman and La Traviata the full scale productions. Even though I did not have a principal role, just being around great artists, those environments were a great highlight.

Definitely this point of my life has been really exciting, this is my first big opera in a leading role I really like. All the process of rehearsals and the role, and working on it has been one of those points that is quite high up there.

And of course one of my other highlights is when I met Jessica when we were doing La Traviata

Tell me, what’s it like working alongside Jessica Pratt, being such a seminal force in the operatic world, what have you gained from the time you’ve shared together on stage and in the studio?

For me, I have to say I consider myself really lucky, I knew I wanted to do opera, I knew I wanted to be good at what I do, in the sense that you always want to improve, always want to be able to do what you can do as a singer. When she came into the picture, it was like something I hadn’t experienced on stage, in the way she sings and her artistry. She showed me other ways to sing, it’s been an eye opener.  I think it’s been really amazing, she’s been really generous, she has given me all her information, her help and time. I don’t have the words to say thank you to her.

Is it possible to pinpoint exactly what drew you into the world of Opera, what is it that really inspires you about the art form?

It’s a really earthy connection, everyone has different ways of relating to different art or their passions. It’s something about the singing that really touches my inner soul, and I really enjoy it when I’m doing it, not enjoying it like “this is glorious” but you feel like you belong to something. I’m part of the world, part of something, part of this ball of dirt.

My first relationship with music in the operatic world was with Bel Canto, and this (Lucia di Lammermoor) is one of the big operas of that repertoire, I’ve seen it on stage before and there is something about the music that is really well written. There’s something about the story that could be simple, but it’s really real and I know can sometimes be quite fantastical. Something about the story is really believable, even though it’s highly romantic it was written in a period when romanticism was at the top. The role that I play, Edgardo, is a really strong character in his way but he also has all these shades that are childish, he falls in love with someone for the first time and being that committed to it. But he then also comes in and out of all these shades of anger and despair, to the point where at the end he takes his life because he couldn’t bare being alive on earth without her love. She’s his last thing on earth, all his family are already dead; it has that kind of passion and darkness or whatever you want to call it.

I really want to thank Victorian Opera, they have been extremely helpful to me, I never dreamt in my life when I was learning biology back home that I would be singing. I now realize how hard you have to work; how hard you have to do things. I encourage singers to work, it’s hard, it’s not easy but when you get to do it, it’s really worth it. All the people who have been in my life, my friends, my family, my ex-wife, they have always been there for me, so I am really am thankful.

Tell us, what can audiences expect from Victorian Opera’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor?

They can expect a really truthful production, concentrated on the real emotions of the text and of the music. It’s a really beautiful old production from the 1970s where the costumes are beautiful, and the set is really traditional. I think what is important here is the truthfulness of the story (director) Cameron Menzies have been doing some amazing work on giving justice to the text and the music. The cast are all really good, they bring something else to the role to, and I think that’s important with Bel Canto, when you have performers that breathe life to into it.  Bel Canto is where you can put everything you want on stage, but at the end of the day what it still becomes is truthful with the music and the text, the singers and the orchestra and the conductor.

Do you believe Opera still holds relevance with contemporary audiences, or do you perhaps sense a shift towards more mainstream art forms?

I think opera will never disappear, like many art forms it will go up and down, I think it’s valuable to keep something like opera, because if you think about it, it’s a complete art form in a way, you get all the pieces the symphony, the orchestra, you get the acting, you get the singer, sometimes you get dancers, all the technicians, you get the lighting, you get a lot of people involved in making a production, its amazing. Some of the straight theatre, maybe I’m ignorant but you cannot compare it to opera, still people prefer to go to the movie theatre or musical theatre these days because that’s what this generation wants maybe? I don’t know. I think the basis of everything that we see now, we will realize with time that we need to keep all this, it’s important. I know that the money you put into opera is a lot and it is expensive and you don’t get a lot of money back, but in general life you do get it back. In this day and age, we have become real neo-liberal thinkers where everything we do needs to come back to us. Sometimes you do get more, maybe it’s not money but think of the people you employ doing an opera, how many people you touch, or how it affects the lives of people who come, opera really is something special.

Lucia Di Lammermoor, opens Tuesday April 12th at her Majesty’s Theatre, it’s promises to be nothing short of the spectacle and grandeur one expects from a night at the opera, for more information check out Victorian Opera’s website-

The Pearl Fishers Georges Bizet MET OPERA March 5 reviewed by Meredith Fuller



The Pearl fishers1I love attending the Met Opera (captured live on screen at the NOVA); it enables us all to enjoy superlative opera.  The Pearl Fishers is set in the far east where villagers dive for pearls – a dangerous occupation that requires a virgin priestess to ward off the spirits of the storm and keep them safe. Two friends, Nadir (Matthew Polenzani) and Zurga (Mariusz Kwiecien) have sworn off a beautiful woman they both desired, for the sake of their friendship, but when she reappears as the virgin priestess we discover that Nadir and Leila (Diana Damrau) are still in love and risk all.  The ensuing storm becomes a tsunami. Discovered, they are to be put to death by Zurga, but ultimately he relents and allows them to escape by setting fire to the village. He saves her as she once saved him when he was a fugitive needing sanctuary. A child, she risked her life for him.  He had given her a pearl in memory, and just before they are to be hanged, he recognises the pearl. The lovers go, and Zurga is left to face the consequences.

The tenor (Nadir) and baritone (Zurga) sing the haunting duet that is one of the most recognised operatic duets – a highlight of the two hour opera.

British producer director Penny Woolcock and set designer Dick Bird have created a contemporary masterpiece of an opera that was last performed at the Met 100 years ago, starring Caruso.

With technological wizardry, the opera opens with some pearl fishers diving down to the bottom of the azure ocean, across the entire stage, complete with bubbles. We later learn that the divers have mastered flying rigs to become divers, and are treated to an explanation of the technology during interval.

While the lovers Polenzani and soprano Damrau sing brilliantly throughout, Kwieccien as Zurga doesn’t impress until the second and third acts, when he delivers a masterful performance.High priest Nourabad didn’t quite bring the gravitas to his role, but this is a minor point. Overall, the singing by all was exquisite, and deserving of the standing ovation from the Met audience.

Contemporary touches that work a treat include Zurga distributing money to the villagers to bribe their voting him as the diving leader, and each villager displays a Zurga face mask to signify a unanimous election. High rise slums in the background are an intriguing touch to this fishing village, and the slums bleed water as they morph into Zurga’s office, resplendent with laptop amongst the piles of files and dusty office furniture of an indeterminate twentieth century. While some audience members muttered that the scene changes were too long, I was happy to watch the lively ocean or slum screen.

I took my mother to a 1980’s performance in Melbourne that had a less visually exciting, and more traditional, historically accurate set.

I found today’s imaginative and clever set deeply symbolic and far more visually stimulating. The confrontational scene between Zurga and Leila was powerful and mesmerizing. The meta action of Zurga using a red jerry can to sprinkle petrol over the rope bound lovers was a masterstroke. A subtle reminder of suttee, and the violence of superstitious people seeking retribution. The minor characters remained in role every moment, using facial expressions and body language that heightened tension.  This performance will stay with me, and I applaud the quirky use of modern tools amidst the decaying buildings of yesterday that were constructed above the nineteenth century fishing village. It was zany and high tech with a core of colonial past, and faithful vocal renditions that honoured Bizet’s love triangle while taking the audience to a magical visual feast.

Victorian Opera launches its 2016 Season, a year of Different Dreams

MVA Victorian Opera Emma Matthews, Sally Anne Russell Melbourne May 2015
MVA Victorian Opera Phoebe Briggs, Jeremy Kleeman, Emma Matthews, Sally Anne Russell Melbourne May 2015
MVA Victorian Opera
Phoebe Briggs,
Jeremy Kleeman,
Emma Matthews,
Sally Anne Russell
May 2015

Victorian Opera and Musica Viva present new chamber opera, Voyage to the Moon, starring celebrated Australian singers Emma Matthews and Sally-Anne Russell.

Victorian Opera launches its 2016 Season, a year of Different Dreams, with a vivid reimagining of the Baroque in Voyage to the Moon, a new co-production with Musica Viva. Australian theatrical legend Michael Gow writes and directs the production – a contemporary take on the traditional Baroque practice of ‘pasticcio’.

Based on Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso, Gow’s new libretto weaves together a ‘jukebox’ of both classic and obscure Baroque music with a musical score compiled by Baroque expert, the late Alan Curtis. Gow reflects, “The title echoes the first sci-fi film, Georges Méliès’ silent masterpiece Le Voyage dans la Lune. Ariosto’s vast 16th epic Orlando Furioso is often mentioned as an early example of science fiction, because in Canto 34 the knight Astolfo travels to the moon to retrieve Orlando’s sanity. Librettists found in this great poem an almost inexhaustible source of characters, situations and themes for the Baroque operatic stage.”

Australia’s most adored soprano, Emma Matthews, makes her Victorian Opera debut starring alongside acclaimed mezzo Sally-Anne Russell and former Victorian Opera Developing Artist Jeremy Kleeman. The semistaged production is designed by Christina Smith and Matt Scott (The Flying Dutchman) and showcases lavish period costume. Featuring the music of Vivaldi, Handel, Telemann, Gluck, Orlandini and de Majo, leading Australian chamber instrumentalists bring vitality to the score led from the harpsichord by Victorian Opera’s Head of Music Phoebe Briggs.

Briggs notes that: “Arias, ensembles and instrumental passages have been chosen from across the vast repertoire, handpicked for their expressive and emotive content. New text in English was created and recitatives were written to link the musical items and advance the drama of the storyline. The chamber orchestration of the work creates a varied and colourful soundscape and adds a lush and florid layer to the vocal fireworks.”

Gow’s libretto recounts a tale of loss, love, madness and friendship. The great warrior Orlando, Emma Matthews, has lost his lover and now his mind. His friend the brave knight Astolfo, Sally-Anne Russell, is guided by the mysterious Magus, Jeremy Kleeman, to the moon – home to many of earth’s lost things including Orlando’s wits. They must confront Selena – The Guardian of the Moon, also performed by Emma Matthews, in order to save their friend.

Following its world premiere Melbourne season at Melbourne Recital Centre from 15-19 February, the production will tour nationally with performances in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Perth and Adelaide until 12 March. Victorian Opera and Musica Viva present Voyage to the Moon in partnership with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. Professor Jane Davidson and her research team will study the work’s effect on audiences and the creative team in view of the genre’s emotional impact during the Baroque period.

A series of free talks and workshops will be available across the production’s national tour, including a daylong symposium Baroque Music: Performance, Emotions, Insights at Melbourne Recital Centre on Wednesday 17 February.

…. Melbourne Season Voyage to the Moon 15, 16, 18 & 19 February, 7:30pm Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall Corner Southbank Blvd & Sturt Street, Southbank Tickets: $60 – $155.

Voyage 30 & Under $30

Bookings: or (03) 9699 3333

Baroque Music: Performance, Emotions, Insights Wednesday 17 February, Workshops from 10am Melbourne Recital Centre, The Salon Corner Southbank Boulevard & Sturt Street, Southbank Tickets are free but bookings are essential at

National Tour

Voyage to the Moon tours nationally from 15 February – 12 March.

For further information on national tour dates, performances and bookings: please visit or call 1800 688 482.

Sydney | 22 & 23 February 7pm; 27 February 2pm City Recital Hall Angel Place, 2-12 Angel Place, Sydney

Brisbane | 29 February & 1 March 7pm Conservatorium Theatre, 16 Russell Street, South Brisbane Brisbane concerts presented in association with Opera Queensland

Canberra | 4 March 7pm Llewellyn Hall, ANU School of Music, Childers Street, Acton Perth | 7 March 7.30pm

Perth Concert Hall, 5 St Georges Terrace, Perth Perth concert presented in association with West Australian Opera

Adelaide | 11 March & 12 March 7.30pm Adelaide Town Hall, 128 King William Street, Adelaide

Adelaide concerts presented in association with Adelaide Festival of the Arts Voyage to the Moon is a collaboration between Musica Viva and Victorian Opera, in partnership with the Performance Program of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, and with support by the Musica Viva Amadeus Society.