While the trope of the evil stepmother is well worn, in Antonio Vivaldi’s baroque opera Farnace there’s some next-level villainy on display. Berenice, the warrior queen, is on a mission to destroy Farnace, who is the king of Pontus, despite the not insignificant fact he’s married to her daughter.
“My life has been poured into vengeance for him because his father killed my husband and child,” says two-time Helpmann Award-winning mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Dark of her role. “The family dynamic is horrific as you can imagine. As much as Berenice loves her daughter, she’s now consorting with the enemy.”
While the Italian composer Vivaldi is best known for his violin concertos The Four Seasons, he was also a prolific composer of operas.
“The focus has never been on his operas, it’s really been on his orchestral works and it’s a shame because this is an absolute masterpiece,” says Dark. “The music is just spine-tingling. There are arias of great fury but, in the midst of that, there are these moments when time seems to stop.”
This is the first production of Farnace in Australia with countertenor Christopher Lowrey in the title role and Helpmann-winning soprano Taryn Fiebig also on board. However, staging Farnace was no easy feat; Pinchgut Opera, led by artistic director Erin Helyard, needed to rise to the challenge of reconstructing an ending for the work as Vivaldi never completed his revisions of the third act.
“If you sing something, which I often do, like a Verdi or a Wagner, the notes are all there,” says Dark. “Whereas this is a movable feast growing every day in the rehearsal room. I’ve never been a part of a process where the third act really didn’t exist. It’s terrifying, but it’s also incredibly exciting to be moulding this new beast of a piece.”
Farnace is at City Recital Hall, 2 Angel Place, city, $102-$201, pinchgutopera.com.au, until December 10.