Opera director Mark Gaal has a passion for the forgotten

Opera director Mark Gaal.

Opera director Mark Gaal.

Blackheath's Mark Gaal loves a good neglected opera.

The opera director, National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) graduate and teacher and Hi-5 director (pictured) will be staging an opera at Sydney's City Recital Hall in Angel Place next month of The Chimney Sweep, the Australian premiere of a rarely performed opera by much maligned composer Antonio Salieri.

Mr Gaal has a swag of accolades on his bio, including spending three years as director/chief executive officer of the Australian Theatre for Young People. He also directed three separate live productions for television's Hi-5 which toured nationally and overseas, and represented the prestigious theatre training ground, NIDA, twice at international festivals.

He's currently head of NIDA's Open Program, directing its short and part-time programs as well as directing this, his fifth opera for Pinchgut.

Talking to the Gazette while in rehearsals for The Chimney Sweep, he says it's the comic story of an Italian chimney sweep who seduces the women of the household where he works, to bargain for his future.

"As with the best comedies, The Chimney Sweep takes its sly look at life under the guise of frivolity," Mr Gaal said.

He said the new English version was perfect for operatic first-timers.

"Desire, gratification, and ambition are all exposed as unsavoury human realities, but this story of an Italian chimney sweep bargaining with others' affections still captures genuine affection, an abundance of generosity and an appetite and delight for life that is as inspiring as it is enjoyable."

Mr Gaal made the Mountains his home six years ago.

"Blackheath is a great place to live - I moved here with my partner [and] we renovated a house in Wentworth Street, then made the move to a place off Shipley Road, and love being completely surrounded by nature."

He says one of his missions is to create more fans of 18th century music.

"Why wouldn't you want to hear music from the 18th century? If you enjoy the work of composers like Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and Mozart, then you'll enjoy Salieri's music. The music in The Chimney Sweep is a revelation it has great arias, strong ensemble numbers and is very inventive."

Mr Gaal said Salieri was maligned as Mozart's murderer but this production lets audiences make up their own minds.

"Mozart was inspired by The Chimney Sweep and you can hear how it influenced him in Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro.

"A few years after Salieri died, Alexander Pushkin wrote a piece called Mozart and Salieri about envy perhaps that's where the rumour that they were rivals started.

"The 1980s film of the Peter Shaffer play, Amadeus, reacquainted us with Salieri, but did him no favours. Our Pinchgut production allows audiences to be their own judge."

Pinchgut co-artistic director Erin Helyard, who will be directing from the fortepiano, says: "Salieri's score is a charming and lively work, never before recorded or professionally staged in modern times. The fact that this piece was performed more than 80 times in the 10 years after its premiere shows us how much Salieri's music was appreciated and enjoyed."

Adding that while "other companies do the more familiar operas excellently, we want to help audiences discover something new".

Pinchgut Opera will be joined by up to 40 members of the Sydney Children's Choir who will appear on stage sooty but in fine voice for the show's climax.

Pinchgut started 12 years ago and specialises in the neglected operas from the baroque and early classical periods. Critic Leo Schofield called an earlier production by Pinchgut as "nothing short of sensational".

This is Pinchgut's 13th production.

Mr Gaal says he's hopeful a few new converts will come along and discover Salieri.

"Musicians like Cecilia Bartoli and Thomas Fey are bringing his music to wider audiences. It's a great time for opera when the repertoire is being extended beyond the familiar 10 or 20 favourite classics," he said.

Pinchgut Opera presents The Chimney Sweep by Salieri at the City Recital Hall on July 5,6 and 7. Tickets from $30 at cityrecitalhall.com 8256 2222. See also www.pinchgutopera.com.au.

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