West Australian Opera has announced that it has commissioned a new work to be performed in Noongar language from composers Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse. Titled Koorlbardi wer Wardong, it is based on the traditional story about the rivalry between the koorlbardi (magpie) and the wardong (crow).

“We were excited to start work and to partner with West Australian Opera on this project, dreaming up a production that celebrates strong cultural elements of language, song and narrative,” said Williams and Ghouse. “We are especially keen to work with young people on this project, as this has great potential to be an important legacy work. Opera is a powerful way to do this, as many traditional stories from other cultures have been told and passed on for generations. We will present a story that is 3000 generations old, is uniquely West Australian, and will be passed on for many generations to come.”

“There is little existing opera repertoire that celebrates Western Australian stories and little or no existing opera repertoire in First Nations Languages based on Aboriginal stories,” said WA Opera Music Director Chris van Tuinen. “WAO believes in sharing stories that are relevant and also uniquely speak to this land, time and place. We want to cultivate a love of opera in a younger generation and provide access for children from all backgrounds to experience the power of opera with stories that will resonate for them.”

“Although the theatres are still dark we have the opportunity to nurture creative development and this commission provides an opportunity to invest in artists and create new Australian work,” added Executive Director Carolyn Chard. “I am grateful to our Principal Partner Wesfarmers Arts, for supporting this commission. The power of the arts has been abundantly evident during these months of isolation and social distancing.”

“This year, our Wesfarmers Arts partners have had to cancel forthcoming seasons, close their doors to the public and draw upon often limited reserves, to keep paying the staff and artists who are critical to their future,” said Rob Scott, Managing Director of Westfarmers. “Through the crisis, we have stood alongside our arts partners, to help them remain viable, and we are delighted to support the development of this inspirational commission, with its focus on celebrating the indigenous culture of this place, on Noongar Country. The commission allows West Australian Opera to keep innovating and keeps our state’s artists creating new work. Ultimately, it’s initiatives like this that will help our arts sector re-emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, resilient and re-invigorated with new opportunities for growth and community engagement – which we will all be able to enjoy.”

Williams and Ghouse will now begin work on the opera through specialised workshops and classes, as well as the creation of musical scores and planning pathways for the integration of Noongar language training for artists involved. There will also be an education arm intended to engage students of various ages and backgrounds.

The opera is expected to come to fruition in September 2021.

Perth audiences will recall that Hecate, a production of Macbeth by Yirra Yaakin, which played the Perth Festival earlier this year, was performed entirely in Noongar.