Is it time for Opera Australia to rebrand as "Musicals Australia"? That's the impression you might get from a quick look at its just-announced 2020 Sydney season, which features no less than four musicals over the course of the year. Operas still far outnumber musicals (there are 12 in the season) but it's the musicals that usually draw the biggest audiences, and that's likely to continue in 2020.
The jewel in the musical theatre crown is a new production of Fiddler on the Roof, performed entirely in Yiddish, with English surtitles. Directed by Oscar and Tony winner Joel Grey (still known best for playing the Emcee in Cabaret), the production premiered in New York last year to rave reviews and is currently enjoying a return season due to popular demand.
There's also the previously-announced anniversary staging of Jimmy Chi's Bran Nue Dae, which will play the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta as part of Sydney Festival, and the original Broadway production of Lucy Simon's The Secret Garden. Opera superstar Renée Fleming will be coming to Sydney for a semi-staged version of Adam Guettel's The Light in the Piazza (although you could argue that the lush, romantic score has more in common with operas than most musicals).
On the operatic side of the coin, Opera Australia is bringing back Gale Edwards' much-loved production of La Boheme and staging another season of digital productions, including the ultra-decadent (and sort-of camp) Aida. The company is also doing three works that are less frequently performed: Attila, Roberto Devereux and La Juive. And the company's annual studio season will feature a revival of a 2009 Australian opera by Andrew Ford and Sue Smith.
Sydney 2020 mainstage operas
La Bohème (Dec 31-Jan 30)
Conductor: Carlo Goldstein, Director: Gale Edwards
Opera Ausrtalia has pulled this production out almost every year since its debut in 2011, because it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at and always attracts a big crowd. The Weimar-inspired production will star South Korean soprano Karah Son as Mimì and Australian-Chinese tenor Kang Wang as Rodolfo.
Carmen (Jan 11-Mar 26)
Conductor: Christian Badea, Tahu Matheson, Director John Bell
John Bell's Cuban take on Carmen is also getting another run with Italian mezzo Veronica Simeoni as the titular femme fatale. She stars opposite Roberto Aronica as Don Jose.
Don Giovanni (Jan 24-Feb 27)
Conductor: Zhong Xu, Dane Lam, Director: David McVicar
Opera's greatest womaniser (well, at least on stage) comes to life in this grand gothic production by celebrated Scottish director David McVicar. Italian baritone Luca Micheletti sings the title role under the baton of Zhong Xu, the general director of the Shanghai Opera.
Faust (Feb 10-Mar 11)
Conductor: Lorenzo Passerini, Director: David McVicar
McVicar's grand, Parisian version of Faust is returning with 28-year-old conductor Lorenzo Passerini at the helm. Teddy Tahu Rhodes is getting his devil on as Mephistopheles, with Ivan Magri as Faust and Irina Lungu as Marguerite.
Attila (Mar 12-28)
Conductor: Andrea Licata, Director: Davide Livermore
Yes, the King of the Huns. This early Verdi opera is about that Attila, and this is the first time it's being performed in Australia. This production by Davide Livermore uses both projections and massive set pieces (and two actual horses) to tell the story of Attila and the prisoner woman who changes him. Taras Berezhansky stars as Attila alongside Natalie Aroyan as Odabella.
Aida (Jun 25-Aug 10)
Conductor: Giampaolo Bisanti, Tahu Matheson, Director: Davide Livermore
This production, which uses innovative multimedia technology, was a hit when it premiered in 2018. It looks more like a Taylor Swift concert than a traditional grand opera, but the musical standards are likely to be sky-high with American Leah Crocetto in the title role opposite Yonghoon Lee as Radamès.
Roberto Devereux (Jun 30-Jul 16)
Conductor: Paolo Carignani, Director: Davide Livermore
Italian director Davide Livermore is continuing his "Three Queen Trilogy" (following on from Anna Bolena) with this rarely-performed opera about Queen Elizabeth I, played by Metropolitan Opera soprano Jennifer Rowley.
La Juive (Jul 14-18)
Conductor: Guillaume Tourniaire, Director: Olivier Py
This epic French opera about a dangerous love affair between a Jew and a Christian in 1930s France is having its Australian debut with a cast of some of Australia's finest operatic talents, including Stacey Alleaume, Natalie Aroyan, Shanul Sharma and Richard Anderson.
Eugene Onegin (Jul 25-Aug 8)
Conductor: Carlo Montanaro, Director: Kasper Holten
Nicole Car is Australia's most successful opera singer of the last decade and is returning home to star alongside her husband in this acclaimed production of Tchaikovsky's moody masterpiece. She's sung this role before to stellar reviews, combining her spectacular soprano with killer dramatic instincts.
The Light in the Piazza (Aug 14-22)
Conductor: Kimberly Grigsby, Director: Daniel Evans
With a score by Adam Guettel and a book by Craig Lucas, this 2003 musical about a rich American mother and daughter holidaying together in Italy picked up six Tony Awards. Soprano Renée Fleming has previously played Margaret in this production directed by Olivier Award-winner Daniel Evans, and will reprise the role in Australia opposite Alex Jennings.
Fiddler on the Roof (Sep 10-Oct 31)
Bock and Harnick
Director: Joel Grey
Performed entirely in Yiddish, this production has been praised as the most authentic and moving version of the beloved musical about Tevye and his five daughters living in a Jewish settlement in Russia.
The Secret Garden (Aug 4-Sep 6)
Simon and Norman
Director: Susan H Schulman
The original Broadway creative team is reuniting 29 years after this musical first appeared on Broadway. It's based on Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel of the same name and features a lush score and plenty of magic.
Bran Nue Dae (Jan 17-Feb 1)
Chi and Kuckles
Director: Andrew Ross
This coming-of-age musical about a young Aboriginal boy in 1960s Western Australia is returning for its 30th anniversary. It will feature a new cast of Australian performers and is playing at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta as part of Sydney Festival 2020.
Rembrandt's Wife (Sep 16-19)
Ford and Smith
Conductor: Warwick Stengards, Director: Tabatha McFadyen
Opera Australia is opening up its scenery workshop for another contemporary opera. Penned by ABC's The Music Show host Andrew Ford and playwright Sue Smith, this opera visits the famous painter late in his life.
See Opera Australia's full season at opera.org.au
Got a hankering for a showstopper? Check out the best musicals coming to Sydney.