“It’s a double coup,” Mills says. “I don’t think the claim of ‘the operatic event of the year’ is an idle one. It will be outstanding.”
Mills has “the greatest respect” for his friend Young, who will lead the Australian National Academy of Music Orchestra at Hamer Hall.
“She’s a wonderful conductor and a wonderful teacher,” he says. “This repertoire is absolutely in her DNA.”
VO begins the year at its spiritual seaside home, St Kilda’s Palais Theatre, with Salome. Mills has never conducted the work before but signals Salome as the first in a Strauss series that will play out over the next three years.
Lithuanian soprano Vida Mikneviciute will make her Australian debut in the fiendish title role together with Englishman Ian Storey and superb Australian singers Liane Keegan and Daniel Sumegi.
When asked if Mikneviciute is willing to do the erotic Dance of the Seven Veils – where the soprano disrobes/strips, sometimes ending in full-frontal nudity – Mills replies, “If anyone accepts Salome they know what’s in store.”
The Who’s Tommy receives its first professional outing in Australia in August.
“We’re a 21st-century opera company,” Mills says. “This work deals with contemporary themes and issues that are quite important to our society at this time.”
The Who’s 1969 album Tommy sold more than 20 million copies worldwide and was adapted into a stage musical that played successfully on Broadway and London’s West End.
Victorian Opera’s cast is yet to be announced, but Mills is adamant it will include “some of the great names of Australian rock ‘n’ roll”.
Remaining steadfast to its commitment to Australian music, the company will premiere its 23rd new work in 2020. Three composers will bring an adaption of 19th-century French novelist Gustave Flaubert’s Three Tales to life: jazz saxophonist Zac Hurren (whose score will be performed by singer-songwriter Katie Noonan), Dermot Tutty and Stefan Cassomenos.
There will be two musical biographies – Margaret Fulton: The Musical and Ali McGregor’s Helpmann Award-winning cabaret Yma Sumac: The Peruvian Songbird.
Offerings for children and young people include Schubert’s Die Freunde von Salamanca (The friends of Salamanca), Massenet’s Cendrillon (Cinderella) and Baby Bilby Sings, an introduction to song for the very youngest audiences.
After years of championing the works of Bellini and Rossini, what Victorian Opera is not doing in 2020 is a bel canto performance.
As other opera companies reveal their new seasons, evidence suggests Mills is right. Little pieces of Victorian Opera are popping up across the country, including at Opera Queensland where VO’s Lorelei appears next year, while Opera Australia will mount a bel canto concert starring VO darling Jessica Pratt.
Mills is immensely proud of the contribution his company makes to Australia’s cultural landscape and says though it’s “a little tiresome”, programmatic imitation isn’t a thorn in his side.
“At my age, you don’t get irked by things,” he says. “You just take it as a challenge to do even better next year.”