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|The Eighth Wonder|
|Opera by Alan John|
|Based on||Building of the Sydney Opera House|
14 October 1995
Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Production History and other Background
The Eighth Wonder was premiered by The Australian Opera at the Sydney Opera House on 14 October 1995 in the presence of the composer and librettist. The opera was broadcast on television by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on the Friday evening following the world premiere performance.
Lyndon Terracini, artistic director of Opera Australia, announced that the work would be performed as part of the 2016 season at the Sydney Opera House, retitled as Sydney Opera House: The Opera. This new adaptation was performed outdoors on the steps of the Opera House, with the audience wearing headphones to hear the singers and orchestra with clarity. Although the fidelity of sound reproduction was exceptional in this production, the artistic integrity of the work was severely damaged by the producers' decision to replace the composer's recitative sections with spoken dialogue. Clearly not without precedent in the operatic world - eg various versions of Bizet's Carmen, no reduction was made to the runtime of Sydney Opera House: The Opera as the result of this decision (which was apparently the objective in making the change), yet the original artistic intentions of the creators was significantly compromised.
In 2020, spurred by AFI award-winning composer Stephen Rae's desire to listen to the opera and finding it unavailable, a project commenced to promote the opera through a comprehensive website dedicated to the opera. Rae, along with The Eighth Wonder's composer Alan John, the work's music copyist Philip Griffin, and composer and multimedia artist Matthew Chin, built a website which provides the full libretto, audio, and orchestral score, along with essays and observations from the original director (Neil Armfield), the composer, the original conductor (Richard Gill), Kim Williams and others. Also available are programs from the three (1995, 2000, 2016) productions at the Sydney Opera House, reviews, production photos, and extensive cast credits. The most significant contribution of the website is undoubtedly the first ever complete recording of the opera. In the lead-up to the 1995 season, Scene 10 was deemed too complex, requiring too much rehearsal time to be included, and was excised from the premiere production. Not unsurprisingly but rather disappointingly, all subsequent productions have followed this decision. For the website, available archival recordings (particularly the 2016 revival) were amalgamated and artfully stitched together. Sections of the score (including Scene 10 in its entirety) of which there was no satisfactory recording were generated from scratch using a combination of a simulated (computer-generated) orchestra and professional singers. This can be heard via the website in a variety of modes, including an option to listen to the opera whilst following the full score - or libretto. The website - www.theeighthwondertheopera.com - was for some time hoped to be launched to coincide with the 25th Anniversary of the first performance of the opera, but due to certain pandemic events of 2020, was ultimately publicly launched in March 2021. The resulting publicity drive to promote a revival in interest in the opera resulted in a cover story feature in the April 2021 edition of Limelight magazine.
The opera tells the story of the very building in which it was performed. Soon after the building was commissioned and work had commenced the State Premier who administered its genesis died.
The opera suggests that the Premier believed that if the work was not sufficiently advanced and there was a change of government then the project would be cancelled. Therefore, the foundation work was commenced before the architect had solved the problem of how to build the main structure of the building. The time and cost estimates were also understated to ensure work commenced. There were many other engineering and design problems that had not been solved when work had commenced.
The opera supports the idea that the architect was fully competent to solve these problems and indeed was able to provide solutions that were far more elegant than anything that anyone less inspired, less talented and at one with a vision could provide.
Some time after that there was indeed a change of government. There was much hostility toward the building and the new government was not willing to let the architect complete the project. Much scandal was made of the time and cost of the project. The state bureaucracy wrested control from its architect and the architect's intentions for the interiors of the building were never realised. The architect left the country and disowned the building.
Characters in the opera include the politicians, the architect, an engineer, socialites, and a prominent conductor (the maestro) who betrays the cause of opera for the cause of concert music (see full cast list below). There are also two young artists who firmly identify their future with the building. The names of the characters do not match their real-life counterparts and there are, no doubt, certain other fictional elements.
There is a large chorus and the music is quite accessible, with several bright choral climaxes. The opera consists of two acts, with a total of 15 scenes including Parliament House, the construction site and the suburban backyard where the young artists spend time with their families.
The opera concludes leaving the audience with a sense of loss for the complete vision that was never realised but also with an enormous sense of gratitude and wonderment that as much of that vision that has been completed has been.
World premiere season credits
- Conductor – Richard Gill
- Director – Neil Armfield
- Set Designer – Brian Thomson
- Costume Designer – Angus Strathie
- Lighting Designer – Rory Dempster
- Choreographer – Kim Walker
- Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra – Concertmaster – Tony Gault
- The Australian Opera Chorus – Chorus preparation – Richard Gill
- The Architect – David Hobson
- Alexandra Mason – Clare Gormley
- The Politician/High Priest – John Pringle
- The Engineer – Roger Lemke
- Stephen Goldring – Anthony Elek
- The Maestro – Donald Shanks
- The Premier – Robert Gard
- Sky/Aunt Olive/Tour Guide – Emma Lysons
- Earth/Aunt Jean/Miss Hodges – Linda Calwell
- Madame Magda – Heather Begg
- Ken Mason/Aide de Camp – Geoffrey Chard
- Eileen Mason/The Queen – Kerry Elizabeth Brown
- Juror/Government Spokesman – David Brennan
- Architect's Daughter/Clare Goldring – Catherine Kelso
- Socialites – Anne Way, Caroline Clack, Judith Fay-Taylor
- Socialite/Second Woman – Dawn Walsh
- Art Lovers – Scott Hannigan, Christopher Bath, Leslie Andrews
- Music Lover – Jin Tea Kim
- Reporters – Stephen Mathews, Nicholas Davidson
- MP's Wife/First Woman – Susan Barber
- Government MP – David Aston
- Second Government MP/Opposition MP – David Lewis
- Onlooker/Foreman – David Aston
- Italian Worker – Mario Alafaci
- Famous Writer – Christopher Bath
- Speaker of the House – Geoffrey Crook
- Government Whip – Robert Mitchell
- Olympic Swimmer – Simon Beckett
- Warrior Prince – Jason Moore
- Architect's Wife – Amber Simpson
- "Opera Australia 2016 Season: New Versions of Old Favourites, Obscure Verdi" by Ben Neutze, Crikey, 11 August 2015
- Neutze, Ben. "Sydney Opera House: The Opera (The Eighth Wonder) review". dailyreview.com.au. Retrieved 2017-05-25.
- The Eighth Wonder the opera website A brand-new (March 2021) fully authorised by the composer website featuring essays, observations, the full score, libretto, and for the first time and most importantly, a recording of the entire opera including the never-before performed Scene 10.