What has your experience been with opera?
I’m a soprano and also an opera lover. I think opera is such an amazing medium for telling stories. I have performed in a number of the large scale Opera Australia and Opera Queensland touring productions on the Gold Coast.
The cast of Opera Gold Coast’s Gianni Schicchi. Photo supplied
Why did you want to form Opera Gold Coast?
I have always been surprised that a city the size of the Gold Coast does not have its own opera company. I was so excited by the turn-out to Opera Australia’s Opera on the Beach productions and could see that Gold Coast audiences really embraced the art form. Plus, there is no shortage of exceptional musicians and singers living on the Gold Coast. I was also following a fantastic opera company based in London (OperaUpClose) who perform amazing intimate re-imaginings of well-known works. They often perform in pubs and in English. This was totally inspiring to me and showed that there are no rules about what can be done. At the end of the day, opera is about storytelling and you really must connect with the audience. I knew that Gold Coast audiences would fall in love with opera and felt there was a way we could reach people who may shy away from the traditional opera experience by creating innovative and intimate productions.
How did the company come together?
Once I decided what I wanted to do, I basically surrounded myself with talented people and we got to work!
Is there a particular audience you’re hoping to reach?
We are encouraging anyone who has never seen an opera to give it a try! We have kept our ticket prices really accessible ($30 for adults and $25 for concession) and have chosen such a fun piece that I think will appeal to a broad audience. At the same time, opera lovers won’t be disappointed, they will have the chance to hear top quality local musicians and singers perform one of the lesser produced works and in a lovely intimate venue with chamber ensemble.
Why did you choose Gianni Schicchi for your next production?
Well, this isn’t actually our first production, but we certainly have gained momentum this year. Puccini is such a popular composer (understandably!) and of course the big aria is so recognisable, but as a piece of theatre it really is fantastic, and it’s the only comedy Puccini wrote. Schicchi is such a great story with universal themes of greed and love. It is short (around one hour), punchy, features some beautiful singing, not to mention, it’s hilarious! A great introduction to opera for our Gold Coast audiences.
Can you talk a little bit about the production? Who is directing and what is their vision?
Doug Gehrke has designed and directed the production and really has approached it as a piece of theatre. It’s a one-act opera and the story takes place in one room. The design includes both traditional and stylised elements. He wanted to create a world where the deplorable ‘Donati’ family are kind of trapped in time and almost ‘unreal’ whilst the other more sympathetic characters in the story like Lauretta are ‘outside’ of that world. I think he has found the right balance between tradition and innovation and has created an interesting visual scape to compliment the sonic experience.
I understand that you are also performing in Gianni Schicchi. How does your dual role of artistic director and performer shape your approach to the company in general?
I think a lot of performers can relate to wearing a number of hats when creating work. Certainly, in the pop music world it is not unusual for artists to produce their own work and of course artistic directors often start as performers. My focus is well and truly on growing the company, so I am motivated to find works from the opera repertoire that Gold Coast audiences will connect with. It has been the case that those works have also had plenty of great soprano roles too!
Are the performers primarily from the Gold Coast?
Yes they are, both the singers and musicians are mostly from the Gold Coast or have some connection to the Gold Coast. We have some amazing singers and musicians that have had international careers and call the Gold Coast home. The Queensland Conservatorium is just an hour up the road and the Northern Rivers area (just to the south) is bursting with talent too. Many artists take a tree change from Sydney to Melbourne and move to the Northern Rivers. Our conductor, Nicholas Routley, lives there.
What are your plans for the future? How many productions a year do you hope to mount?
We would really love to be staging one major production every year. There’s a lot involved in creating a quality production, and we are focusing on quality over quantity! Opera Gold Coast wants to provide a place where local artists can develop their skills through workshopping and training too. We also hope to tour our productions in the future.
Opera Gold Coast’s Gianni Schicchi is at the Helensvale Cultural Centre, November 29 and 30