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In the early 1950s, Aaron Copland wrote an opera for the NBC Television Opera Workshop. The premiere of The Tender Land was to be a televised production, but instead took place on the stage at the New York City Opera in 1954. Since then, it has never made the leap to the small screen, instead being performed solely as a traditional stage opera.
This May, boutique opera company Lyric Opera of Melbourne will challenge the line between reality and theatre with an innovative new production of The Tender Land at Chapel Off Chapel.
Inspired by the Great Depression-era photographs of American photographer Walker Evans, The Tender Land, sung in English, tells the story of an isolated rural family’s struggle for control when two unwelcome drifters arrive in town. On the eve of her graduation, the family’s eldest daughter Laurie faces a battle between the life that is planned for her and her forbidden relationship with a mysterious outsider.
Director John Kachoyan explains that there is a lot for a modern, Australian audience to relate to in The Tender Land. He describes it as “a moving and enormously current story about rural isolation, xenophobia and the tyranny of distance.”
John, along with the creative team comprising some of Australia’s next-generation rising stars, have chosen to stage the piece using a chamber orchestration – an arrangement approved by Copland himself, but rarely performed. Musical director and conductor Pat Miller will lead the 13-piece orchestra for the production.
An operatic work designed to bring opera to the masses through mainstream media is a perfect fit for Lyric; a bold, creative opera company passionate about developing operatic artists and building new audiences for the art form. Lyric’s loyal following ranges from young professionals and Melbourne arts lovers to traditional opera enthusiasts.
Lyric is committed to enriching the operatic repertoire by creating a forum for the production of lesser-known works – a commitment clearly exemplified with this production of The Tender Land.
The cast of The Tender Land includes some of Melbourne’s most exciting upcoming talents as well as seasoned performers. Award-winning soprano Emily Uhlrich will sing the role of Laurie, with acclaimed Opera Australia principal tenor artist Henry Choo singing the role of Martin in his debut performance for Lyric Opera.
The intimate performance space at Chapel Off Chapel in Melbourne allows audiences to engage with the story and encourages them to see themselves in the characters before them. This ‘up close an personal’ production will allow the audience to experience Copland’s only full-length opera in the intimate style the composer intended.
Audiences for The Tender Land can expect a poignant story of love, yearning and small-town dynamics which will resonate with modern-day Australians. The show is designed to transport audiences to a theatrical world where prejudice and small-town mentality prevail, while also aiming to demonstrate how relevant, powerful and accessible opera can be in the modern world.
John Kachoyan’s background in theatre and the operatic talents involved in Lyric aim to create a production that explores where opera and theatre meet; a living world of relevant, honest characters that is complemented and enhanced by Copland’s beautiful music. Traditional and non-traditional operatic audiences should enjoy discovering a new theatrical story while also finding familiarity in the characters and experiences that transcend time and place.
In recent years, Lyric Opera has received outstanding reviews and accolades for their previous productions including Poulenc’s Elle and Gluck’s Iphigénie last year and in April 2012, staged a double-bill performance of Trouble in Tahiti by Leonard Bernstein and The Red Apple by Jacques Offenbach.