Victorian Opera has announced one of four new operas commissioned to celebrate its 15th anniversary in 2021. Parrwang Lifts the Sky, by Yorta Yorta soprano and composer Deborah Cheetham, tells of how the first sunrise came about, one of the creation stories that form a part of the rich oral history of the Wathaurong people of Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula. The work, which will be presented as the company’s education production for 2021, will be livestreamed to thousands of primary and secondary students across Victoria as part of the company’s ambitious Access All Areas: Livestream Program.

Parrwang Lifts the Sky. Image © Ammie Howell and BJ O’Toole

“It is an honour to be entrusted with this beautiful story from Wathaurong country,” said Cheetham. “Parrwang Lifts the Sky is a shining creation story which reveals itself as a powerful metaphor for the journey towards understanding. As composer and Artistic Director of Short Black Opera, I am proud to collaborate with Wadawurrung traditional owner Corrina Eccles, director Cameron Menzies and Victorian Opera to create the uplifting story of how Parrwang the Magpie gave humankind the very first dawn.”

Victorian Opera was formed on 6 October 2005 as the new state opera company. Over the past 15 years, the company has earned an enviable reputation for its commitment to new Australian work. Its embrace of innovation, both artistic and technical, its collaborative approach, and its commitment to access was acknowledged by its being awarded Australian Major Performing Arts Group status in 2019. The transition to the newly formed National Performing Arts Partnership Framework will also happen in 2021.

Victorian Opera 2009: Angelique. Photo © Jeff Busby

“Victorian Opera celebrates this milestone at a particularly dark time,” says Richard Mills, Victorian Opera’s Artistic Director. “We look back with pride on what we have achieved, the performances we have given, the 32 commissioned works we have developed and the way we have lived our mission to re-imagine the potential of opera and musical theatre for everybody.”

“We have made art for and with our community in all its diversity. We know that the ability of art to make order out of chaos, to give purpose, certainty, clarity, beauty and something of the marvellous, is and will be needed more than ever in the years ahead.”

Victorian Opera 2020: Salome Photo © Craig Fuller

The company has also announced the Michael Stubbs and Malcolm Roberts Opera Prize. The $50,000 award will provide employment to emerging singers across 2021 with the recipient cast in a Victorian Opera production as well as benefitting from coaching by VO music staff and private mentorship from Mills himself. Interested artists are able to submit applications from today.

To celebrate its own commitment to new Australian opera, VO is also releasing Thirty-two over Fifteen: Victorian Opera’s Commissioned Works 2005–2020, a digital book paired with a complementary web series, which will launch on Friday 9 October. Both will be available on the company’s website.

In addition to Parrwang Lifts the Sky, which also explains why the industrious Australian magpie so vociferously greets the dawn, the company intends to reveal a further three new operatic commissions to be staged next year with the full 2021 season to be announced in late November.

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