A divo-lution for new season
Teddy Tahu Rhodes will play the debauched Don Juan in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Picture: Jeff Busby.

The WA Opera opens the tenure of its new leading man, artistic director Joseph Colaneri, with four productions next year that highlight some of the greatest male roles in the repertoire.

Colaneri, in Perth to conduct Madame Butterfly later this month, will oversee a 2013 season that also honours the 200th birthday of Giuseppe Verdi with two of his finest works, Rigoletto, starring James Clayton in a free Opera in the Park production, and La Traviata, featuring Rosario La Spina as Alfredo.

After a star turn in Tosca last year, Teddy Tahu Rhodes will return to His Majesty's Theatre to play the debauched Don Juan in Mozart's Don Giovanni. The season, branded the Year of the Divo, ends with American tenor Garrett Sorenson playing Rodolfo in Puccini's La Boheme opposite Natalie Aroyan as Mimi and Rachelle Durkin as Musetta.

"I am absolutely thrilled by this cast," says Colaneri. "I think it is going to be terrific."

Beyond the stage next year, Colaneri has yet to nut out the details but is keen to extend the opera company's reach by collaborating more with other WA arts organisations beyond its key partner, the WA Symphony Orchestra. The WA Academy of Performing Arts, WA Ballet and Art Gallery of WA should all expect a knock on the door from the New Yorker who says he is very much alive to the give-and-take possibilities of his time in Perth.

A "mini-festival" of Verdi music, for instance, is something that Colaneri is mulling over as an ancillary event to the main stage opera seasons. "We should see what we can do to explore the Verdi thing and draw it into tho larger context of the arts in Perth," he says.

Colaneri will split his time between Perth and New York, where he is on the conducting roster with the famed Metropolitan Opera and has run the Mannes Opera at Mannes College in the New School for Music since 1998. He was also the music director at the New York City Opera, where he made his conducting debut in 1987.

He was born and raised in New York, where his father was a butcher and his mother an office administrator. Music appealed to him from an early age and he entered the profession as an organist and choral conductor after graduating from New York University and Westminster Choir College. Acknowledged for his enthusiasm for developing young performers and his efforts in audience outreach, Colaneri also is a frequent international speaker on opera and serves as guest lecturer for the Metropolitan Opera Guild and the Los Angeles Opera League.

He describes his three-year appointment with WA Opera as the right fit at the right time and an opportunity for him to teach, learn, engage and be engaged.

"I am at a stage of my life where I have done lots of different things," he says of his 14 years at the Met, working with Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Renee Fleming, James Levine, Susan Graham and Stephanie Blythe.

"There is a huge energy and all these people and the artistic energy is flying around. You do that for a time and then an opportunity comes and someone says to you 'You know, why don't you come and work with us and let's have an opportunity to share and do something new?' So I feel, especially in another country as well, that there are new things that I'm exploring now."

Having been a guest conductor four times with WA Opera over the past six years has given him some insight into the way things are done here.

"Now I need time to observe and see how things work and really take the temperature of the whole arts scene, which I'm anxious to do so that there can be a real mutual sharing."

He is looking to do more to support local talent through the WA Opera young artists program and expand the company's repertoire to attract new audiences.

"I also want to get to know the public. I don't want them to be just the people beyond the fourth wall. I often feel in a production, that it is not just me in the front of the pit and the singers and orchestra that way and nothing behind me. Rather, I feel I get an energy from the audience behind me, the public, and I attempt to draw them in.

"We have to be very cognisant that in the digital age and these wonderful HD productions, that is one way to experience opera but we don't want that to replace the live experience.

"It is a brave new world and we need always to be like a good tennis player. You've got to work on your toes. Your feet can't be planted on the ground. You've got to be light enough on your feet to play whatever shot comes your way.

"I am a real believer that if you go to the opera it can change your life. I don't say that as a cliche. Opera matters. You change when you experience what is going on up on that stage."

OPERA SEASON 2013
Rigoletto, Supreme Court Gardens (February 2)
La Traviata, His Majesty’s Theatre (April 9-20)
Don Gionanni, His Majesty’s Theatre (July 16-27)
La Boheme, His Majesty’s Theatre (October 31-November 9)

The West Australian

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