Baritone Peter Coleman-Wright’s ambition is to set up a National Opera company in Canberra, “a company for all Canberrans, and indeed all Australians”, and put the ACT on the international music map. His production of Handel’s Alcina (1735), which opened on Thursday for two performances, was a triumph: superb singing, beautiful music and inventive staging overcoming budgetary limitations.


Rachelle Durkin and Emma Matthews, Alcina, National Opera, 2022. Photo © Peter Hislop

Alcina is the company’s second major production, after Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito in April 2021. A planned production of Puccini’s La Rondine (first announced for 2020) was shelved because of COVID. The production of Alcina is a tribute to the late Dame Joan Sutherland, who was acclaimed ‘La Stupenda’ after her performance in Zeffirelli’s 1960 Venice production of the opera, and to her widower, the conductor Richard Bonynge, the company’s patron.

Handel’s opera is as bewitching and enchanting as its title character – call her Alcina or Armida (or even Medea), the sorceress who seduces men and unmans them reigns in many Baroque operas.

But the...