From galleries to the Darling Downs, the opera company explores new settings and new collaborations at home and abroad.

Opera Queensland has launched their 2017 season with a diverse array of formats, collaborations and locations – from Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art to the paddocks of Darling Downs. It’s this diversity of experiences, more than anything else, that binds the season together according to Artistic Director Lindy Hume – that, and a commitment to producing new work that sees all but one of the season’s offerings either brand new productions or world premieres.

For Hume, creating and fostering new work is vital. “I think it’s really important,” she told Limelight. “That’s a big change for us as a company – to develop new work and new productions – and it’s been fantastic for us because we’ve started to have collaborations on our work with New Zealand Opera and now Seattle Opera. It’s about the work we make here in Queensland being of a standard to go elsewhere as well – it’s not just for our audience, it’s for a broader audience.”

Sensory

The season opens with Sensory, a musical art-installation featuring a series of live performances amongst the Gallery of Modern Art’s gallery spaces, the audience treated to fine wines and canapés. “A few years ago we started sending our opera artists into different environments and we did a very popular show at a nightclub, Cloudland, which is like a kind of Baz Luhrmann set,” said Hume. “We brought our audience to this club and then set loose a bunch of singers – in costume and very close to the audience. It was a crazy experience and the audience went a bit mad, really. It was a very noisy and wonderful journey of discovery.”

Hume wanted to continue that in that vein, but in a very different iconic Queensland space. “I’ve been dying to do something at GOMA since I arrived,” she said. We’re going to be in the gallery as part of their tenth anniversary and we’ll be doing this journey through the exhibitions, where we divide up the audience so they can have a very intimate experience in each of the gallery spaces with performances by opera singers and other musicians. It’s going to be quite an adventure!”

Michael Gow’s production of The Pearlfishers will come to Brisbane in 2017

The second offering of the season is the only production that isn’t new – but it’s not exactly venerable: Michael Gow’s 2016 production of Bizet’s The Pearlfishers, which premiered in Sydney in January this year with Opera Australia and has since enjoyed performances in Melbourne. “We haven’t presented The Pearlfishers for 15 years,” said Hume, “and it’s kind of an iconic favourite of Australian audiences – they love the duet. It’s a really popular piece of repertoire that hasn’t been seen in Brisbane for too long. We’ve got the beautiful Emma Matthews as Léïla and Grant Doyle – an artist I really like working with – as Zurga.”

Hume is thrilled to have Matthews as Léïla. “I saw her do it in Melbourne,” she explains, “Emma’s a very charismatic singing actor – she always has this beautiful lustre about her performances and a sincerity and a real heart-stirring quality. She has a very special star quality.”

An Afternoon with Jason Barry-Smith

Robert Kemp’s Pearlfishers set will also play host to An Afternoon with Jason Barry-Smith and Friends. “We’ve done this before,” explained Hume. “We did it when we had our Traviata set on stage and we thought it was a good opportunity for us to use our time in the Lyric Theatre and bring people into something a little bit more intimate and a little bit more friendly.” Jason Barry-Smith, who will perform some of his favourite musical numbers and regale the audience with backstage anecdotes, will be joined by a number of special guests, including Natalie Peluso, Virgilio Marino.

Hume will direct the season’s next offering herself, a brand new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore. “Ruddigore hasn’t been performed professionally in Australia for about 20 years,” said Hume, “so it’s a bit of an excavation job, this one.” Starring Kanen Breen, Natalie Peluso and Jason Barry-Smith, Hume’s production of Ruddigore will be set in period. “It’s completely bonkers,” she said. “It’s this fantastic, eccentric Victorian world of the occult and etiquette and the notion of a Baronial curse – all these slightly melodramatic themes that I think will translate really well with the cast that we have, who are all incredible stage animals.”

Despite the Victorian setting, however, Hume plans to add a few contemporary touches. “Somebody once paid me the great compliment of telling me that they thought I was the Wes Anderson of opera directing – which I was very pleased with – and I’m going to bring some of that and a little bit of Tim Burton too,” she said. “So it will be very un-traditional but still set in Victorian England – it will have a kind of hipster quirkiness.”

Opera at Jimbour

The audience themselves will be involved in Opera at Jimbour, which will present a semi-staged version of Franz Lehár’s operetta The Merry Widow as part of the Queensland Music Festival in July. “Last year we did Fledermaus and gave people the opportunity to learn to waltz and then get up and dance as if the paddocks in front of Jimbour house were the world’s biggest ballroom,” Hume explained. “And it just went off – we had about a thousand couples waltzing in the middle of the Darling Downs. This time we’ll be teaching people to sing the ‘Vilia’ chorus. So it will be a participatory event for the audience.” The audience will support a cast including David Hobson as Count Danilo and Emily Burke as Hannah Glawari.

Mozart Airborn combines opera and dance, photo © Jeff Camden

Mozart Airborn will present a different kind of collaboration – Opera Queensland teaming up with Expressions Dance Company. “Since I arrived, Natalie Weir and I have been talking about doing something together and when we landed on Mozart, it was the obvious way to go,” Hume said. “We’ve got Alex Ranieri – who’s a brilliant young concert pianist – and a grand piano in the middle of the stage. We have this central point from which all the arias and ensembles can radiate. And that’s a really interesting prospect for this range of choreographers. We’re using six dancers and six singers, so it will be a dramatic, lush, visual and aural performance.”

Following Hume’s Snow White for adults, which premiered as part of the Brisbane Festival, Opera Queensland will be returning to the fairy tale genre in 2017, but this time with a Hansel and Gretel aimed at younger audiences. “Snow White was really very much for adults and this one is exactly not that,” Hume explained. “This comes off the back of our very popular schools touring production Fizz! – a version of The Elixir of Love. It was a fantastic collaboration with Shake and Stir Theatre Company – they are probably the savviest group of young theatre makers I’ve ever come across. They’re very astute at getting messages– and quite complicated dramatic material – across to younger audiences.”

The production – which will include a combination of live theatre and digital technologies – will still have some scary moments. “The whole journey in the forest is a very trippy experience. It should be scary, it should be a cautionary tale, but it’s also a wonderful story – a celebration of the kids’ resilience in the face of these encounters. One of the reasons kids love Hansel and Gretel is that they put themselves in that action adventure story. You need the baddies and you get the baddies in Hansel and Gretel. That witch, she’s horrible!”

The year will finish up with the popular gala Opera Exotica and a Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Opera Queensland and Queensland Performing Arts Centre presentation of Carmen in Concert featuring the Opera Queensland Chorus. For Hume however, it’s also gratifying to see Opera Queensland make a mark on the international scene. “We’re much more global than we used to be,” she said. “We’ve had our production of Cindarella in Leipzig and San Diego and our Barber of Seville, which toured to all these regional centres, is off to Seattle and New Zealand next year. We’re taking the Opera Queensland brand well beyond the borders of Queensland – it’s a very exciting time to see how the company’s changing and morphing.”


Tickets to Opera Queensland’s 2017 season are on sale November 4. For more information visit www.operaq.com.au