Opera Companies in Australia

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Introduction

Australia has four major opera companies funded by their respective State Governments and the Major Performing Arts division of the Australia Council. These include Opera Australia, State Opera of South Australia, Opera Queensland and West Australian Opera. In addition a number of smaller companies have been established in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia in recent years.

National Opera Company

Opera Australia, the national flagship company, is based in Sydney. The Company performs two mainstage seasons at the Sydney Opera House and two seasons in Melbourne's State Theatre annually.

The artistic leadership of Opera Australia comprises chief executive Adrian Collette, music director Richard Hickox and executive producer Stuart Maunder. The company casts its productions from an ensemble of Australian artists, with regular appearances by international guest artists. The ensemble includes around 80 singers, dancers, conductors and repetiteurs, including a full-time chorus of 48, and employs a further 200 people in the areas of scenic construction and painting, lighting, design, direction, wardrobe, wig-making, management, marketing and administration. Opera Australia also manages the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra (based in Sydney) and performs with the independently managed Orchestra Victoria (based in Melbourne).

Opera Australia is Australia's busiest performing arts organisation. It gives upwards of 600 performances a year, including subscription seasons in Sydney and Melbourne and extensive regional touring and schools performances by OzOpera, its touring arm (see further under touring companies below). Opera Australia also works closely with national broadcaster the ABC, giving live and recorded national broadcasts on radio and TV and producing numerous recordings to build one of the world's largest collection of operas on DVD from a single company.

Beyond performing, Opera Australia is also a national resource for opera as an artform in Australia. It maintains a repertoire of over 80 productions (including sets, props and costumes) and produces new productions every year, manufactured on site at the Opera Centre in Sydney. These productions are seen in Opera Australia's subscription seasons and also hired to Australia's state opera companies and, increasingly, other opera companies worldwide.

State Opera Companies

Opera Queensland is based in Brisbane and presents an annual season of three major operatic productions in the Queensland Performing Arts Centre as well as numerous smaller productions, concerts and tours of operatic and lighter musical material in other venues throughout Queensland.

Through its education program, children and young adults are introduced to opera in performance and the creative process of making opera. The annual regional tour of an opera or concert is presented in centres large and small across Queensland, and a community outreach program takes opera to the people with free performances at public venues such as shopping malls, RSL and other clubs, sporting grounds and racecourses. Mainstage performances are supported by The Queensland Orchestra. The Company's General Manager and Artistic Director is Chris Mangin.

The State Opera of South Australia is based in Adelaide and presenting annual seasons of three mainstage productions at the Adelaide Festival Theatre, plus smaller scale specialist productions in the Dunstan Playhouse. Specialist performances are also staged at the Company's Opera Studio for the purpose of providing professional development opportunities for emerging young artists.

Since the company's beginnings as Intimate Opera in 1957, the State Opera has been consistently praised for its high artistic standards and innovative programming and now enjoys a fine reputation throughout Australia and overseas. In 2000, the Cultural Ministers Council accepted the recommendations of the Nugent Inquiry in designating The State Opera of South Australia as a "Specialist" Company with shared funding responsibility from both Commonwealth and State Governments.

Through the Company's activities, State Opera strives to reinforce South Australia's reputation as a State recognised for its rich cultural life and artistic excellence. State Opera's vision is to be recognised nationally and internationally as a forward-thinking performing arts company that "does it differently". Following the success of a number of major events including two productions of Wagner's Ring Cycle, the national premiere of Wagner's Parsifal and other innovative programs the Company also seeks to be renowned for making Adelaide a "Wagner City" and an international hub for cultural tourism.

The Company is committed to major artistic collaborations with other leading opera companies in Australia and overseas. Our involvement with the general public, sponsors and major stakeholders through a range of mainstage, studio, touring, youth and community programs ensures access to the artform across a diverse audience demographic.

State Opera employs a full-time staff of four led by General Director, Stephen Phillips. The Company, however, employs many hundreds of people each year through guest artist contracts, theatre technicians, musicians, stage managers and ancillary staff. All mainstage performances as supported by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Victorian Opera: In 2004, the Victorian Government commissioned a review of opera in Victoria. This resulted in the Government supporting a new opera venture, with funding of $7.6 million over four years, beginning in 2005/06 financial year. The University of Melbourne has also made a financial contribution to Victorian Opera's operations. In August 2005 the Minister for the arts announced the formation of an independent company, which was incorporated in 2005 and commenced operations in January 2006.

Productions scheduled or performed in 2006 include Cosi Fan Tutte (Mozart), St John Passion (Bach) Metamorphosis (Brian Howard). The Company's Music Director is Richard Gill and General Manager, Anne Frankenberg.

The West Australian Opera, which was formed in 1967, is the state's premier producer of opera and music theatre. The Company is located in His Majesty's Theatre, a beautiful Edwardian theatre that celebrated its centenary in 2004.

In partnership with the West Australian Opera Chorus and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, WA Opera aims to make opera an accessible and stimulating part of Western Australian cultural life with an annual program of mainstage productions, recitals and free outdoor events.

The Company also operates an extensive education program that includes schools, regional and community workshops. The Company's Artistic Director is Richard Mills AM, and the General Manager is Craig Whitehead.

Other Main-Stage Companies

Based in Adelaide, the Bel Canto Opera Company had its beginnings in 1998 when founder, William Snell, founded the Bel Canto Trio. The Trio was loosely based on a trio that traveled across the American mid-west in 1947 and included the great tenor Mario Lanza.

Following successful performances in Adelaide and regional South Australia, Bel Canto progressed to producing fully staged operatic works commencing with Donizetti's L'Elisir D'Amore in 2001 followed by Don Pasquale in 2003. Both were performed at the Elder Hall, Adelaide. Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor was presented in 2005 and Bellini's La Sonnambula is scheduled for performance at the Norwood Town Hall in November 2006

Based in Melbourne, Chamber Made Opera is Australia's leading production house for contemporary music theatre. It is also Australia's only full-time company exclusively devoted to the commissioning and presentation of music theatre works by living artists. Since its inception in 1988, the Company has produced over 25 world premieres by Australian artists, and numerous Australian premieres by artists from around the world.

Chamber Made has toured extensively, producing over 70 performance seasons across four continents. These include performances at festivals of Covent Garden, Hong Kong, Wellington, Washington DC, Caracas, San Jose, Budapest and Groningen, Netherlands, as well as Perth, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne.

Chamber Made has won numerous awards, including the Myer Group Award, Australia's most prestigious performing arts accolade. All Chamber Made's works have been recorded for ABC Radio and are regularly broadcast throughout Australia.

Established in 1997, Melbourne City Opera aims to provide a platform for young Australian artists establishing their careers and offer performances of popular traditional opera at affordable prices for Victorian audiences. The Company hopes to accomplish these aims through a creative and stimulating environment in which young artists can develop their performing skills with "a sense of flair and excitement".

Melbourne Opera Company Ltd was founded in 2002 and a not-for-profit public arts company dedicated to producing opera and associated art forms at realistic prices. The Company's special emphases are on the development of young artists and regional touring. The board is elected annually by the financial membership, which is open to all, and repertoire and casting decisions are taken by an artistic sub-committee. Melbourne Opera has toured regional Victoria from 2003 and will tour a full scale production in 2006. With an ensemble of dedicated performers and administrators, Melbourne Opera's aim is to provide opera of the highest standard to audiences of all ages and backgrounds at affordable prices.

Based in Sydney, Pacific Opera has existed in its present form since 2003. An opera company with a difference, Pacific Opera combines fresh and dynamic interpretations of repertory operas with professional development for emerging opera singers. The company produced The Magic Flute in 2003, Hansel and Gretel in 2004 and Cosi Fan Tutte in 2005. Pacific Opera receives financial support from the NSW Ministry of the Arts and the Australia Council. The Company is led by Christine Douglas, Artistic Director and Julie Taylor, General Manager.

Based in Sydney, Pinchgut Opera was set up to offer Sydney audiences a different experience of opera.

It presents opera in more intimate settings, where the audience is closer and more involved than is possible in a conventional opera house. The most important element in Pinchgut's productions is the music's immediate impact on the audience. Pinchgut stages productions of operas, particularly works from the baroque period, that are not regularly heard and that offer an intimacy and immediacy not found in larger venues.

Pinchgut Opera was founded by a group of professional musicians, arts administrators and music lovers with the common goal to create something new in Sydney already busy musical landscape. Pinchgut engages mostly young Australian singers, musicians, directors and designers for its productions providing important professional development opportunities.

Full stage productions are presented at Sydney's Angel Place recital hall and have included Handel's Semele (2002), Purcell's The Fairy Queen (2003), Monteverdi's L'Orfeo (2005), Rameau's Dardanus (2005) and a new production of Mozart's Idomeneo in December 2006.

Pinchgut Opera receives limited financial support from the NSW Ministry of the Arts, the Australia Council and the City of Sydney. However, the Company relies primarily on box office, sponsorship and donations to balance its budgets. The Company is led by Artistic Directors Erin Helyard and Antony Walker and Artistic Administrator, Alison Johnston.

In Tasmania, IHOS (the Greek word for 'sound') is a performing arts company with an international reputation for original music-theatre and opera. Works are multicultural, multilingual and exploit multiple art-forms, blending voice, dance and sound with installation art and digital technology.

The company was established in Hobart in 1990 by composer and artistic director Constantine Koukias and production director Werner Ihlenfeld.

IHOS elaborates cross-cultural themes in modern Australia, often using unconventional venues, foreign language and alternative forms like braille, semaphore signalling and morse code.

IHOS has produced five full operas, many smaller music theatre works and a number of large-scale community projects. In 2000 the company founded the IHOS Laboratory to develop the skills of young singers and provide platforms for emerging composers, directors and designers. During its operation, the Lab has premiered more than 20 new works showcasing the talents of more than 70 new performers.

Touring Companies

OzOpera, Opera Australia's touring education and access arm, was launched in 1996 at the Adelaide Festival with a production of Mozart's Magic Flute. Performing year round in communities large and small across Australia, the Company gives many people their first experience of opera.

Its activities also includes primary school productions and the commissioning and production of new Australian works, education workshops designed to demystify and increase access to opera for all ages, and collaborations with educational institutions, festivals and other arts organizations.

Based in Adelaide, Co-Opera was registered in 1990 as an incorporated association in South Australia with a principal objective to perform operas with regional/remote Australian communities as its main target audience.

With assistance from the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Association of SA, over 60 performances were presented at each of the 1991 and 1992 Royal Adelaide Shows. Co-Opera's approach was intended to demythologize opera by making it fresh, accessible and entertaining. In 1993 and 1994 respectively the SA Country Arts Trust [now Country Arts SA] sponsored highly successful tours of Co-Opera's productions of Pagliacci and The Magic Flute to regional/remote South Australian communities.

In 1995 Co-Opera received funding assistance from the Federal Government through its Playing Australia program allowing it to take performances of The Magic Flute to regional Victoria and New South Wales. Similar tours followed in 1996 and 1997 with Queensland added to the touring communities. New productions of La Boheme, Carmen and The Marriage of Figaro were the works toured. Co-Opera also received funding support through Arts South Australia.

From 1998 to 2002, new productions of Madame Butterfly, La Traviata, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Cosi Fan Tutte and Tosca were added to the repertoire and extensively toured. Since then Co-Opera has developed its first operetta in Die Fledermaus, toured in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and has also moved towards supplementing its popular operatic repertoire with less mainstream work. In 2004 a production of Mozart's The Impressario was jointly presented with Salieri's Prima La Musica and in 2006 Co-Opera presented its first commission, a music theatre piece by SA composer, Becky Llewellyn, based on the life and artistic achievements of Adelaide born painter Stella Bowen and entitled The Portrait.

Further demonstration of the artistic growth and development of the Company is displayed in plans to present future international performances in SE Asia and the Middle East. With SA Government assistance, a program of reduced performances of popular operas for schools has also been presented every year since 1994. The Company's Music Director and Founder is Brian Chatterton OAM

The Song Room is a not-for-profit organization based in Melbourne and dedicated to providing music and arts programs in Australian schools and communities. So far, The Song Room has provided the gift of music and performing arts to over 50,000 students, and continues to develop innovative new programs to suit a wide range of communities.

Recent Australian research shows that as few as 23% of government school students have access to music at school. The Company's vision is that all Australian children and communities will have access to music and performing arts programs; a vision that is supported by a recent national survey that found 87% of respondents believe that every Australian child should have the opportunity to study music in school.

Worldwide research has indicated that children benefit greatly from having music and arts as part of their learning experience. Wide-ranging positive educational and personal outcomes can be achieved with long-lasting outcomes including improved self-esteem, teamwork, academic results and communication skills, thereby greatly improving their future opportunities and contributions. Participation in music and arts has been shown to prevent some young people from going down the precipice of drugs, crime, depression and unemployment.

Inspired by the identification of this significant gap in opportunities for many young Australians, The Song Room was founded by opera singer Tania de Jong in 1999, to provide access to creative learning experiences for less advantaged children and their communities. A team of talented professionals focus on children and communities disadvantaged through economic and geographic circumstances, disability and recent immigration. The Song Room programs include high quality performances in major venues, long-term workshop programs in schools and communities, professional development, instrument donation, research and development as well as collaborative projects with like-minded organisations.

Author

Stephen Phillips. Last updated 2 September 2006.

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