Australian Contemporary Opera Company’s (ACOCo) 2022 season sees the award winning independent company roar back to live performance with seven shows all directed by women, including five Australian premieres, and new presentation partnerships with The Wheeler Centre, the Melbourne Recital Centre, and, wait for it, the MCG (Yarra Park).
“In a year that redefined the word ‘thwarted’, we want to remind people that there is no such thing as an idle arts company,” says ACOCo Artistic Director and CEO Linda Thompson. “Even without live performance we have continued to work, practice and prepare to head back into the rehearsal room.”
“We are emerging from lockdowns inspired, renewed and game fit with an array of stories demanding to be told – from the fun and fantastical to the gut-wrenching.”
Heading outdoors, ACOCo’s season leads with the Australian premiere of London’s Opera Holland Park smash-hit production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Canadian writer Maggie Gottlieb and UK composer Will Todd. Premiering in 2013, Alice ran for five consecutive sell-out annual seasons in London. An opera for children of all ages, this ‘feel-good’ garden production will be performed at Yarra Park at the MCG, as well as Macedon, the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula.
Described by the Guardian UK as “slick and zany – a tonic for these times”, this production is exactly what we all need right now. Featuring Berlin-based Australian conductor Matthew Toogood, in his first trip home in a number of years (after conducting in opera houses across Europe), and starring Melissa Davis, Christopher Tonkin, Daniel Todd and Heather Fletcher, we recommend you bring a picnic or pre-order a gourmet box to enjoy.
In partnership with The Wheeler Centre, ACOCo presents Philip Glass’ divisive Book of Longing – a unique collaboration between the minimalist composer and the poetry of Leonard Cohen. This evening length operatic concert performance of poetry, songs and music also incorporates curated projections of Cohen’s poetry and drawings.
Polarising critics from the beginning, with reviews ranging from the scathing, “Philip Glass takes on Leonard Cohen – big mistake” (SF Chronicle), to the glowing, “an audacious work with a magnetic pull”, “a gem”, “a seldom-heard masterpiece” – there’s only one way to find out which critic is right, and that is to buy a ticket, and see for yourself. Starring Richard Piper (Pirates of the Caribbean, Come from Away) as Leonard.
Set in Melbourne in 1947, against the backdrop of the tumultuous events leading up to her split with husband painter Albert Tucker, Joy Hester is a poignant one act chamber opera created by Melbourne composer Lindsay Brunsdon (winner of the 1998 opera composition prize, University of Melbourne), that gives voice to Joy’s intense and at times controversial life and art.
Sorely under-celebrated during her lifetime, she was the only female artist member of the avantgarde Angry Penguins group, a close friend of art patrons and philanthropists John and Sunday Reed and a significant modernist artist in her own right. Directed by Katy Maudlin, the music is delightful and the story moving. This Australian premiere production throws the spotlight onto ACOCo Young Artists making their contemporary opera role debuts.
The Secret Kingdom is a rare treasure – a prescient comment on power, corruption, greed and the need to care for the environment, which premiered in Wiesbaden in 1928. Featuring a 2002 chamber arrangement by Rainer Schöttstadt, this opera gets a new English translation and a fascinating hybrid digital/stage production by young Melbourne filmmaker and director, Greta Nash. Starring baritone Christopher Hillier as the hapless King, a stunning set will be created by Karine Larche, ACOCo’s 2022 Besen Foundation Design Fellow.
An intriguing double bill comprising The Loser (David Lang) and To Hell and Back (Jake Heggie) – this program is presented in partnership with the Melbourne Recital Centre and designed to pack a punch. Although remarkably different, these two tour-de-force dramas are connected via existential conundrums of our time.
The Loser, based on the novel by Thomas Bernhard, deals with a talented musician’s struggle in the face of the unattainable, ‘perfect’ genius of pianist Glenn Gould. To Hell and Back is a beautiful and sensitive examination of the relationship between a mother and her daughter-in-law, as they come to grips with a violent son and husband. Both works are masterpieces of the intimate American contemporary opera genre.
The season pièce de résistance: a mere 230 years later, Mozart’s beloved The Magic Flute has a worthy sequel! Thanks to Barrie Kosky and Komische Oper Berlin, Finnish writer Minna Lindgren (of Lavender Ladies Detective Agency fame) and classical/jazz sensation, pianist and composer Iiro Rantala, we have The Magic Melodica, an uproariously cheeky comedy, where our favourite characters have aged, some of them quite disgracefully! Sarastro shows signs of dementia, Pamina is sick of cleaning up after Tamino’s dragons and the Queen of the Night has lost her high notes.
Full of surprises, this opera plays ingeniously with the traditions of the genre, at the same time cleverly ensuring there is no need to have seen the original Magic Flute.Premiering in Berlin just last month, The Magic Melodica is set for its Australian premiere in early December 2022.
With all shows directed by women, and gender parity across casting and crew, it was remarked “expect nothing less than representation and conversation from this extraordinary company.” ACOCo’s 2022 program will delight, intrigue, move – perhaps enrage – and engage. For more information, visit: www.acoco.org.au for details.
Image: The Magic Melodica – courtesy of Komische Oper Berlin