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The entrepreneurial Melbourne-based Left Bauer Productions, who recently impressed Sydney audiences with their touring production of Terrence McNally’s Master Class starring Maria Mercedes as legendary diva Maria Callas, have secured another coup in the form of the New South Wales premiere of an important contemporary American opera. In collaboration with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir, the Sydney premiere of Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie’s opera, Harvey Milk, follows on apace from the Australian premiere in Melbourne at this year’s Midsumma Festival. The Australian performances mark the 20th anniversary of the opera’s first staging in Houston, Texas.
The story of the opera will be familiar to many from Gus Van Sant’s powerful 2008 biopic starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in America. Milk was appointed to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in January 1978, and used this position to represent ethnic minorities and the elderly. Ten months later, having secured the city’s first gay rights ordinance, Milk was shot and killed by fellow City Supervisor Dan White. The overwhelming expression of grief from the gay community in San Francisco became a lightening rod for the issue of gay rights across America.
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir
Harvey Milk celebrates Milk’s legacy as one of the 20th century’s most important human rights activists, whose achievements fuelled momentum for equal rights in the US and beyond. “This opera will remind you both how much things have changed, and also how much still needs to change,” says SGLC Music Director Sarah Penicka-Smith. “Harvey Milk’s story has all the right ingredients for classic opera. Passion, political intrigue, love and sexuality, and a hero prepared to give his life for his beliefs.”
Producer Cameron Lukey first approached the City of Sydney with the idea in 2010. “After six years and several attempts, we’re finally able to share this incredible music and story with a Sydney audience,” he says. Harvey Milk – The Opera in Concert features excerpts from the original three-act opera. A 60-piece chorus will support five of Australia’s finest up-and-coming singing talents.
Among the cast are Tod Strike, who is known for his work with The Ten Tenors and Opera Queensland, appearing as Harvey Milk, Victorian College of the Arts alumnus and Victorian Opera Developing Artist Jacob Caine as right-wing supervisor Dan White and Edward Grey - best known for his portrayal as Boq in Wicked - in the role of Scott Smith, who was Milk’s partner and also one of his campaign managers. Australian mezzo-soprano Angela Hogan will portray Anne Kronenberg, another of Milk’s campaign managers, and Opera Australia’s Jud Arthur (perhaps most famous as Fafner in the Melbourne Ring) will tackle the role of Mayor George Moscone.
“The outpouring of grief following Harvey’s death and the passion his achievements inspired continue to fuel a movement the world over,” says Lukey. “With the upcoming plebiscite looming, Harvey’s story could not be more timely for an Australian audience.”