The sound of buzzing violas is the first thing the audience will hear when Dry River Run– a brand new opera by composer and clarinettist Paul Dean and author Rodney Hall – opens in Brisbane at the start of September. “The whole piece starts with hordes – as Rodney describes them in the libretto – of pestilential flies and butcherbird song,” Dean explains.

The opera, ‘orchestral fragments’ of which the Queensland Symphony Orchestra performed in its 2017 season, is set in a remote town in Western Queensland on the eve of Federation, opening with the funeral of Archie Callaway, a popular farmer, and the arrival of his brother to lay claim to a half share in the property. “It’s a dawn funeral – they had funerals very early because it got too bloody hot otherwise.”

Paul Dean, Dry River Run Paul Dean

When I speak to Dean, he’s just come out of a meeting about the show, set to go into production in less than an hour. “It’s terrifying, you know, as a clarinettist/composer who’s written 30 pieces for instrumental ensembles, a couple of concertos,” he says. “Here I am sitting there talking about wigs and...

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