Froth and bubble – the beginner's guide to opera

If you have ever been to the opera (and you really should try it at least once), a quick glance around the theatre will confirm the genre’s big problem. There’s an awful lot of silver hair in the audience.

And, while some of us (ahem) might be part of that picture, it doesn’t bode well for the future of the creative arts in this country. Indeed, the ageing audience is a big issue across all the creative arts, from theatres to museums – the regulars are getting older and the younger folk are yet to fill the seats.

It seems that if you are under 60, you may be more likely to buy tickets to Adele than Aida. And it is a pity. Opera has a lot to offer – sublime music, wonderful singing and memorable sets and costumes.

In recent years, Opera Australia has been working on introducing younger audiences to opera via new and inventive ways to present productions, including the Handa Opera on the Harbour and now a witty new operetta – Two Weddings, One Bride.

The production is unlike anything ever staged by Opera Australia – it’s a bit of a greatest-hits compilation of operetta classics pulled together with a farcical plotline and a fair amount of frivolity. It will be staged in the Playhouse – a smaller, more intimate space at the Sydney Opera House, while the Joan Sutherland Opera Theatre is undergoing extensive renovations.

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Geraldine Turner is hilariously brilliant as Aurore, trying to marry her daughter to two different men 

Stage veteran, Geraldine Turner, right, is one of the leads in the show and she says it will be a lot of fun – and the perfect way to experience some of the lighter side of opera.

“You can take it all in and see a popular work on stage and hopefully love it enough to go back and see another opera,” she says. “I think people who may not go to Parsifal or something, might come along to this and think, ‘gee this is great; if this is what opera is, I will go again’.”

“That’s a great thing, I think. To find audiences and to find younger audiences, to keep coming back to the theatre. It’s a really important thing to put on shows that bring in a new audience.”

Two Weddings, One Bride is a light-hearted story, featuring popular music from such operettas as Fledermaus and The Merry Widow.

“It’s a bit of a hoot and I am sure the audience will get lots of laughs,” Turner says. “It’s gorgeous fun.”

Despite decades of highly successful musical theatre (from Into the Woods to Wicked and her own cabaret shows), this will be Turner’s first production with Opera Australia – and she’s having great fun, she says.

Set in French Morocco in the 1940s, the production has all the hallmarks of an amusing night at the theatre. It has been created by highly respected conductor and musical director, Robert Andrew Greene, combining some of operetta’s best-loved tunes, including waltzes, polkas and songs by Strauss, Offenbach and Lehar.

Turner plays the role of Aurore, the wife of the fiscally challenged governor of Morocco, who has lost all the family’s money gambling. The couple decides that the key to restoring the family fortunes lies in marrying off their twin daughters to wealthy suitors.

“In the first scene I say I am going to divorce him once our twin daughters are married,” she explains. “We have twin daughters – Giroflé and Girofla (both played by Julie Lea Goodwin) – and to cut a long story short, the suitors arrive and I’ve hatched this plan that the suitors’ fathers are rich and they will pay us a dowry and get us out of the gambling losses.”

But, of course, this is operetta, and things never run smoothly. Pirates arrive and carry off one daughter (naturally). As Turner admits, this is when things get a little silly, but a whole lot of fun.

“So we only have one daughter and since they are twins, we talk the one girl into pretending to marry the two men,” she says, laughing. “So it’s like a farcical story and lots of in and out of doors with poor Julie Lee Goodwin, who plays our daughters, doing quick changes constantly being one daughter then another.”

Turner feels that smaller, more intimate space offered by The Playhouse will also help to bring in new audiences because the cast will be so much closer to those in the stalls

“I am of the opinion that the audience and the performers create the evening together as one really and so you really have to be relating to the audience while playing your role, to bring the audience in to make them share the evening with you.”

Two Weddings, One Bride opens on April 29. For bookings, click here.

Watch the teaser trailer below:


Have you seen opera or operetta? What’s your favourite?

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