Opera Queensland is about to embark on a regional Queensland tour with Songs To Die For, a performance described by the company as “a cheeky nod to the over-dramatised deaths of opera’s leading characters masterfully entwined with pop classics”. Presented by three of Opera Queensland’s leading artists – soprano Rebecca Cassidy, mezzo-soprano Jessica Low and baritone Jason Barry-Smith – Songs To Die For is a celebration of the end, brought to vivid life in a performance where Don Giovanni meets Highway to Hell. Jason Barry-Smith talks here about the joys of regional touring:

“One of the great blessings of my artistic life has been that my career has coincided with the increased presence of Australia’s major performing arts companies throughout regional areas. I’ve toured with Opera Queensland to towns the length and breadth of my home state for over 20 years. This opportunity has enriched me and my colleagues immensely, and whether we’ve been performing, teaching, creating, or experiencing the talents of local artists, we’ve been touched by every community we’ve encountered.

With fewer opportunities to attend live performances than those of us who live in major cities, regional audiences are some of the warmest and most honest I’ve ever come across. They’re always grateful to receive the gift of energy, imagination, and talent that live performance delivers, and appreciate the effort required by arts organisations to travel such vast distances.

Jason Barry-Smith in Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse. Photograph supplied

Regional tours of larger coastal communities, which have included works such as Mozart’s Don Giovanni in 1996 through to last year’s tour of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Ruddigore, allow Opera Queensland to tour the full sets, costumes, and cast of a production with a small orchestral ensemble, and latterly with community choruses that have been auditioned, rehearsed, and then perform for their own region. The addition of regional choruses has been one of the most extraordinarily powerful engagement tools I’ve witnessed in regional touring.

Smaller tours to more remote regions have included The Food of Love and Waltzing our Matilda – both of which I co-wrote, directed and performed in – and usually involve five singers, a musician or two, and fewer sets and costumes. These are the tours I love the most! The audiences are almost in your lap in some venues, but the excitement of hearing a beautiful voice in such close quarters is quite overwhelming.

In smaller towns the whole community knows that you’re there. You’re more likely to give some talks or classes at the local school, those kids go home and drag mum, dad, and Aunty Beryl to the “opera”, who are usually very pleasantly surprised that they genuinely enjoyed themselves. And after the show they stay for a drink and a chat. They’re hungry to know more. Another way of building an audience for the show enjoying the camaraderie at the local pub, especially if there’s a karaoke night! These people are always grateful to receive the gift of energy, imagination, and talent that live performance delivers, and fully appreciate the effort required by arts organisations to travel such vast distances.

Having fewer opportunities to experience performances, locals often strive to create artistic endeavours within their own communities. Even though there’s a tendency for metropolitan theatre-goers to harbour disdain for the work of regional artists, regional performers and audiences are surprisingly sophisticated. Many regions are nurturing vibrant artistic communities, with local bands, theatre companies, choreographers, orchestras, composers, playwrights, visual artists, singer-songwriters and dance groups creating exciting work, and firing the passion and imagination of their performers and audiences. And that’s really what the arts is about, bringing people together. That’s a hard task when some communities are separated by hundreds of kilometres, but even distance isn’t a barrier when artistic passion is involved.

Children learn instruments via Skype, and then come together for music camps each term with magical results. Adults will drive a 450km round trip for a rehearsal for a community arts project. I’ve seen them do it. They’ll arrive at a rehearsal or performance still wearing their hi-vis gear from work in the local mine, and after hours of back-breaking labour they’ll be there, engaged and full of enthusiasm.

The touring presence of major performing arts companies is an integral part of this continued artistic growth in regional centres. Bringing new stories, styles, and technical expertise to each region, helps to re-energise and refocus locals on the importance of the arts in their own community. And this cultural cultivation is at the heart of mentally healthy communities. Even in the most stressful of times, art relieves the burdens of the everyday and reconnects us with ourselves and those around us.

Touring artists always leave something behind in the hearts and minds of those they encounter. Whether it be an audience’s memories of a performance, inspiration through a lesson they give at a local school, or a new piece that’s been written especially for a local community, it’s always a goal to inspire and rejuvenate the inner life of regional audiences.

To that end, Opera Queensland’s new touring show, Songs To Die For, will be shared with audiences throughout Queensland in August and September 2019, and I for one can’t wait!”


DATES & TICKETS

Ipswich | 2 August, 7.30pm, George Hogg Auditorium, Ipswich Civic Centre BOOK NOW

Caloundra | 4 August, 2.00pm, Playhouse, Events Centre Caloundra BOOK NOW

Sunnybank | 11 August, 3.00pm, Sunnybank Performing Arts and Cultural Centre BOOK NOW

Bundaberg | 15 August, 7.30pm, Moncrieff Entertainment Centre  BOOK NOW

Gladstone | 16 August, 8.00pm, Gladstone Entertainment Convention Centre BOOK NOW

Townsville | 21 August, 7.30pm, C2, Townsville Civic Centre

Ingham | 23 August, 7.30pm, TYTO Conference & Events Centre BOOK NOW

Innisfail | 24 August, 7.30pm, The Con Theatre

Cairns | 25 August, 4.00pm, Studio, Cairns Performing Arts Centre BOOK NOW

Winton | 29 August, 7.30pm, Waltzing Matilda Centre

Longreach | 30 August, 7.30pm, Qantas Founders Museum

Windorah | 2 September, 7.30pm, Windorah Shire Hall

Charleville | 4 September, 7.00pm, Cosmos Centre BOOK NOW

St George | 5 September, 7.00pm, Saint George Cultural Centre BOOK NOW

Roma | 6 September, 7.30pm

Gold Coast | 8 September, 2.00pm, HOTA, Home of the Arts BOOK NOW