West Side comes to the East Side of the Opera House

If you love jogging through the Botanical Gardens near Mrs Macquarie’s Chair on a bright Autumn night, be prepared to hear the name Maria echoing through the trees as Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour brings the iconic West Side Story to the outdoor stage.

In an effort to top the romance of this season’s La Boheme, Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour and Opera Australia are calling on a musical theatre classic, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s West Side Story. Set in New York and based on the tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is perhaps an attempt to tap into the success Opera Australia has had with its recent production of My Fair Lady.

Opera Australia’s Artistic Director, Lyndon Terrancini, however, says staging the Broadway hit has been on his mind for years.

“I’ve always loved West Side Story, it’s one of the greatest pieces ever written, and I’ve been wanting to include it in the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour repertoire since we started the program seven years ago,” said Terrancini.

At the helm of this new production are American director, Francesca Zambello, conductor Guy Simpson, and set designer Brian Thomson (famous for his take on the outdoor version of Carmen a few years back).

Aside from the obvious question marks over the decision to stage a musical, rather than an opera, the production has also generated negative buzz due to the casting of Opera Australia regular, Julie Lea Goodwin, a caucasian, as Puerto Rican Maria.

Mind you, if we want to get up in arms about ‘white washing’, more than a few fingers could be pointed at Opera Australia’s current production of Aida, in which two white women share the role of the Ethiopian princess, while her love interest sings her praises in front of a projection of a decidedly dark-skinned woman. (The proof is in the pudding with this one, however, as Amber Wagner is superb in the titular role.)

In a sector where it is not uncommon to see last-minute casting changes, it will be interesting to see how this production progresses towards its March 22nd debut.

Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour presents West Side Story from 22nd March to 21st April, 2019. Tickets are available to Opera Australia subscribers from 16th August, 2018 and to the general public from 3rd September. For more information, go here.


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