On Stage

What’s happening on stage this month? We’ve put together a list of the most exciting events in classical music, opera, theatre and dance taking place in April 2021.

Classical Music

Lior and Nigel Westlake perform Compassion with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Photo © Ken Butti

Four Winds Easter Festival
Nestled in bushland near Bermagui on the NSW South Coast, the Four Winds Easter Festival runs three days over the Easter weekend. The program – Lindy Hume’s first at the helm – features William Zappa’s The Iliad (Out Loud), the Goldner String Quartet, Sydney Dance Company, and musicians from the Australian Chamber Orchestra. It will also feature a chamber performance of Nigel Westlake’s and Lior’s song cycle Compassion, as well as a film project featuring new music in Dhurga language by members of the Djinama Yilaga Choir with composer and Indigenous Language Scholar Dr Lou Bennett.
2–4 April, Bermagui, NSW, fourwinds.com.au

West Australian Symphony Orchestra: Dances, Devils and Arabian Nights
Iain Grandage draws on Australia’s 19th-century gothic literary tradition for his percussion concerto Dances with Devils, which Claire Edwardes premiered with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 2015. Edwardes now brings the concerto to Perth, conducted again by Benjamin Northey, alongside literature-inspired works by Rimsky-Korsakov: the overture to May Night (based on a Gogol short story) and Scheherazade, inspired by the Middle Eastern collection of tales known as the One Thousand and One Nights, featuring vivid musical depictions such as The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship.
9 April, Perth Concert Hall

Queensland Symphony Orchestra: Enigma
Francis Poulenc looked back to the organ masterpieces of Bach and Buxtehude for his Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani, written for the Princess Edmond de Polignac (musical patron and heir to the Singer sewing-machine fortune) between 1934 and 1938. Joseph Nolan performs the work on QPAC’s organ with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Johannes Fritzsch, on a program with Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme, known as the ‘Enigma’ variations for the work’s coded musical references to the composer’s friends and the mystery of a theme that is never played.
10 April, QPAC

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra: Genevieve Lacey
Birdsong is at the centre of this concert by Australian recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Paul Kildea. Opening with Bird of Paradise by American composer Moondog (aka Louis Thomas Hardin), the program includes Absolute Bird (a recorder concerto by Hollis Taylor and Jon Rose that draws on field recordings from the Australian bush) alongside baroque evocations of birdsong: Jean-Féry Rebel’s Les élémens and Vivaldi’s Concerto in C Major.
15–17 April, Melbourne Recital Centre

Sydney Symphony Orchestra: Sibelius Symphony No 2
The Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s 50 Fanfares project, which has seen the orchestra commission 50 new works by Australian composers, continues with the world premiere of a new piece by Maria Grenfell, Gaudete Fanfare, which opens this concert conducted by Benjamin Northey. Northey also leads the orchestra in Max Richter’s On the Nature of Daylight – featured on the composer’s iconic album The Blue Notebooks and widely used in film and television soundtracks, from Stranger than Fiction to Shutter Island – and Sibelius’s Second Symphony.
22 April, Sydney Town Hall

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra: Ruler of the Hive
The incomparable actor Pamela Rabe premiered Melody Eötvös’s Shakespeare-inspired Ruler of the Hive for narrator and orchestra with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in 2018 and she returns to the work this month with Johannes Fritzsch and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, who perform it on a program of Shakespearean music. The concert opens with the overture to Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict ( based on Much Ado About Nothing) and comes to a close with the ballet music from the third act of Verdi’s Macbeth.
22 & 24 April, Arts Centre Melbourne, 23 April, Costa Hall, Geelong

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra: Nigel Westlake and Grigoryan Brothers in Concert
In this showcase of music by Nigel Westlake, the composer and conductor will unveil his new double guitar concerto for Slava and Leonard Grigoryan, Toward Takayna, inspired – much like his Spirit of the Wild oboe concerto – by a trip to the Tasmanian wilderness with environmentalist Bob Brown. “It’s just such a special part of the world and it’s so precious,” Westlake told Limelight. “Particularly in the Tarkine area it’s disappearing so quickly with old growth logging.” Also on the program is Westlake’s The Glass Soldier, while Slava Grigoryan rejoins the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra to perform his Antarctica Suite.
24 April, Adelaide Festival Centre

Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra: Evoke | Beethoven & Berwald
Franz Berwald, now regarded as one of the most important Swedish composers of the 19th century, was rather overlooked during his lifetime – so much so that he wound up managing a glassworks for almost a decade when he couldn’t make a living composing, before a hit opera landed him a job at the Swedish Royal Academy of Music. Even today his name is a rare presence on concert programs, but period instrument band the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra is setting the record straight by performing Berwald’s Grand Septet in B-Flat Major on their next tour, alongside Beethoven’s Opus 38 trio for clarinet, cello and fortepiano.
25 April – 9 May, touring NSW, ACT and VIC

Musica Viva Australia: Konstantin Shamray
Originally written for Sweden’s Camerata Nordica and cellist Per Nyström, Estonian composer Mihkel Kerem’s 2008 Lamento will have its Australian premiere in this national concert tour that brings together pianist Konstantin Shamray and musicians from the Australian National Academy of Music, led by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Concertmaster Sophie Rowell. Kerem’s work appears alongside Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings and Schnittke’s 1979 Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra, as well as an orchestral arrangement of Mahler’s Piano Quartet by violinist and Musica Viva FutureMaker Harry Ward.
27 April – 15 May, touring nationally

Opera & Vocal

AVÉ’s David Greco, Katie Noonan, Fiona Campbell and Andrew Goodwin

Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: La Traviata
Opera Australia recycles its first ever Handa Opera production for this year’s harbourside spectacle. Verdi’s intimate La Traviata might not be the obvious opera to benefit from such an epic approach, but it’s always an enjoyable event. Rescued from the wreckage of the pandemic, the production features much of the cast whose hard work went to waste last year. Stacey Alleaume and Jessica Nuccio share the role of the consumptive courtesan with Rame Lahaj and Paul O’Neill as her impetuous lover. Michael Honeyman and José Carbó play Alfredo’s father who upsets the applecart.
Until 25 April, Mrs Macquarie’s Point, Sydney

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs: St John Passion Reimagined
Conducted by Elizabeth Scott, Sydney Philharmonia Chamber Singers offer a period instrument interpretation of Bach’s St John Passion interwoven with a pair of brand-new complementary works: Brooke Shelley’s Ein Bächlein im Bach and Joe Twist’s Heaven, Tear Apart (Himmel Reisse). Richard Butler sings the Evangelist, Andrew O’Connor is Christus, and the other soloists are Celeste Lazarenko, Sian Sharp, Nick Jones and David Greco. The concert will open with Deborah Cheetham’s Acknowledgement of Country, Tarimi Nulay (Long time living here), which, like the other new works, was part of SPC’s 100 Minutes of New Australian Music commissioned to celebrate its centenary last year.
3 April, The Concourse, Chatswood

National Opera: La Clemenza di Tito
Knocked back last year by the pandemic, Peter Coleman-Wright’s National Opera makes its much-anticipated debut at last with four performances of Mozart’s late masterpiece La Clemenza di Tito. Coleman-Wright himself directs the company’s inaugural production with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra conducted by returning Australian maestro Dane Lam. The impressive cast is led by Bradley Daley as the magnanimous Roman Emperor Titus and features other returned Aussie international opera celebs including Catherine Carby as the Emperor’s friend Sesto and Helena Dix as the scheming would-be Empress Vitellia. Mikayla Tate sings the faithful Servilia with Eleanor Greenwood as Annio and Andrew Collis as Publio.
10–17 April, Llewellyn Hall, School of Music, ANU

Australian Vocal Ensemble: Launch Concert
Australian Vocal Ensemble, or AVÉ, is a new acapella quartet comprising soprano Katie Noonan, mezzo-soprano Fiona Campbell, tenor Andrew Goodwin and baritone David Greco. The group aims to celebrate old and new Australian stories by mixing music of the late Renaissance and early Baroque with music of the 20th and 21st centuries, with a particular focus on new Australian music. “We plan on being an elite chamber ensemble of international excellence, but one that is warm and welcoming to all,” says Noonan. “We will champion new Australian works on every tour and engage with our First Nations and local communities at every concert.”
10 April, Queensland Conservatorium Theatre

West Australian Opera: The Barber of Seville
A hit from the early 19th century (despite a famously disastrous premiere), Rossini’s sparkling comedy has certainly stayed the course. Blessed with a cast iron plot courtesy of Beaumarchais’ original play, it remains one of the jewels of the canon. Burhan Güner conducts the West Australian Symphony Orchestra in Lindy Hume’s applauded production, which comes to Perth after outings in Brisbane, New Zealand and Seattle. Brigitte Heuser sings the feisty Rosina with James Clayton as the eponymous barber, Michael Petruccelli as the lovesick Count Almaviva, Warwick Fyfe as the curmudgeonly Doctor Bartolo, and Robert Hofmann as the wily Don Basilio.
17–24 April, His Majesty’s Theatre

Victorian Opera: The Pearl Fishers
It may not boast as many hits as Carmen, but Bizet’s tale of romance and rivalry set in ancient Ceylon is a lyrical feast that grows on you with each encounter. Richard Mills conducts Elizabeth Hill-Cooper’s semi-staging, and the cast includes Kathryn Radcliffe as the hapless priestess Leïla, Carlos E. Bárcenas and Stephen Marsh as the two friends who fall in love with her at first sight (and then sing that famous duet about it), and Teddy Tahu Rhodes as the wicked priest who aims to put a stop to any would-be hanky-panky. An outdoor event, you can pack a picnic and even book a socially distanced private deck.
22 April, Sidney Myer Music Bowl

Theatre

Sydney Lyric: Hamilton
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s revolutionary show about America’s “forgotten” Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, ignited a revolution in the American musical. With its exciting, ethnically diverse cast, the Australian production is helping change the lie of the land in theatre here as well. The rapped-and-sung-through show, which blends hip-hop, jazz, R&B and Broadway in its exhilarating, addictive score, proved a sensation when it opened on Broadway in 2015. The new Australian production has just opened. If you love musicals, make sure you’re In the Room Where it Happens.
Now playing, Lyric Theatre, Sydney

Sydney Theatre Company: Appropriate
If you were hooked by Tracy Letts’ excoriating family drama August: Osage County, check out this dark, subversive comedy by African-American playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (Gloria). Described by The Guardian in London as “gravely serious and mordantly funny”, Appropriate centres on the dysfunctional Lafayette clan, who gather in their late father’s crumbling plantation home in Arkansas to sort out their inheritance. When they discover a troubling photo album, it forces them to look at the American South’s buried history. Wesley Enoch directs the STC production, which features a cast including Lucy Bell, Mandy McElhinney and Sam Worthington.
Until 10 April, Roslyn Packer Theatre

Shaun the Sheep's Circus Show Circa. Photo by Prudence Upton

Circa Contemporary Circus: Shaun the Sheep’s Circus Show
Fresh from its Brisbane world premiere, this new circus-theatre show for audiences of all ages has hit the road. It was created by Brisbane-based Circa Contemporary Circus in cahoots with Aardman, the globally renowned UK animation studio behind Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run and the hit television series Shaun the Sheep. Blending animation, theatre, film and live acrobatics, the production tells a brand new story packed full of mischievous, playful adventure about an enterprising sheep on Mossy Bottom Farm, who refuses to follow the flock.
2–3 April, MECC Auditorium, Mackay; 14–18 April, Regent Theatre, Melbourne

Melbourne Theatre Company: Berlin
Joanna Murray-Smith is one of Australia’s most popular and prolific playwright with over 20 plays to her name, including Switzerland, Honour and Fury. Her new play Berlin opens this month at MTC, after being postponed last year. Sparks fly when two young millennials – a German woman and an Australian man – meet in a Berlin bar. But can love survive the dark shadow of history and inherited guilt? The riveting romantic thriller wraps a philosophical game of cat and mouse around a deadly serious ethical dilemma. The two-hander stars Grace Cummings and Michael Wahr and is directed by Iain Sinclair.
17 April – 22 May, Southbank Theatre, The Sumner

State Theatre Company South Australia: The Gospel According to Paul
Jonathan Biggins has created a gallery of wickedly funny impersonations for the Wharf Revue, but none more hilarious or uncannily accurate than his Paul Keating. In The Gospel According to Paul, a 90-minute solo show, which Biggins wrote and performs, he morphs into Keating, the Bankstown boy who became Australia’s 24th Prime Minister. Gloriously funny, astute, insightful, and occasionally poignant, the entertaining comedy examines Keating’s political career, and laces the first-person narrative with the renowned wit Keating famously used to skewer his opponents. Limelight gave the show 5 stars when it played in 2019. It’s the production Australia had to have. Don’t miss it.
19 April – 1 May, Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre

National tour: Chess the Musical
Featuring a fantastic pop-rock score by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and book and lyrics by Tim Rice, Chess is electrifying when you listen to a recording, but has proved harder to pull off on stage. Focusing on a Cold War chess tournament between an American and Russian grandmaster, who are involved in a love triangle, the musical received mixed reviews when it premiered in the West End in 1986 but still ran for three years. However, the 1988 Broadway production only survived for two months. Jim Sharman directed a brilliantly staged, reworked production in Sydney in 1990 but the show’s structural flaws remained. So it seems like a sound idea to present it as a semi-staged concert style production, which StoryBoard Entertainment is doing here, with a starry cast headed by Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Paulini, Alexander Lewis, Mark Furze and Rob Mills.
22–24 April, Regent Theatre, Melbourne, then Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane

Dance

The Australian Ballet: New York Dialects
The Australian Ballet performs in Sydney for the first time in over a year with a triple bill, which includes a brand new work by American contemporary choreographer Pam Tanowitz, commissioned by new Artistic Director David Hallberg. This will be performed alongside two 20th-century classics from George Balanchine: Serenade and The Four Temperaments. Tanowitz (who Hallberg has known for years) now makes work for companies such as New York City Ballet, The Royal Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. In announcing the 2021 season, Hallberg told Limelight that Tanowitz’s piece would be made on the men of TAB, using the same number of women as in Serenade. It will be danced to music by Caroline Shaw, who in 2013 was the youngest recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for Music.
6–24 April, Sydney Opera House; 3–12 June, Arts Centre Melbourne

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