The fateful arrival of the First Fleet will be retold anew with the World Premiere of First Nations opera work, The Visitors, presented by Victorian Opera at the Arts Centre Melbourne from 18 – 21 October 2023.
Set on Gadigal country on the eve of colonisation, The Visitors is a sharp and witty provocation that calls into question the very foundations of modern Australia. Staged by an exciting team of creatives, this new work marks a striking addition to the growing canon of First Nations opera in Australia.
As strange vessels drop anchor in Tumbalong Bay in 1788, seven local leaders gather to determine if they should welcome the new arrivals or send them on their way.
Like jurors in a courtroom drama, the group discuss, debate and listen as they consider the visitors’ potential threat against the hospitality customary among their people. What they eventually decide will change the fate of their people for centuries to come.
The World Premiere production is directed by Queensland Theatre Associate Artist and Noongar man, Isaac Drandic, who joins Victorian Opera for the first time.
Drandic has directed for some of Australia’s leading theatre companies including Queensland Theatre, Belvoir Street, Melbourne Theatre Company, LaBoite and ILBIJERRI, earning numerous Green Room Awards along the way. Drandic will be joined by Victorian Opera’s Head of Music, Phoebe Briggs, as conductor.
Originally written and mounted as a play, The Visitors is based on a text by acclaimed Muruwari playwright Jane Harrison. Harrison now returns to the work once again, having penned the show’s libretto with accompaniment from Dharug composer Christopher Sainsbury in a renewed operatic retelling.
Imbued with Aboriginal customs, melody and humour, the Victorian Opera Chamber Orchestra will perform Sainsbury’s score alongside a talented crop of First Nations performers assembled from across Australia.
“This is a story about our very foundations as a modern country and needs to be witnessed. To hear seven superb voices and the orchestra bring this First Nations story to life is so wonderful. The excitement amongst the creative team is palpable,” said Librettist Jane Harrison.
“VO continues to embrace and enable the culture and creativity of First Nations. The Visitors, a new opera by Christopher Sainsbury and Jane Harrison, explores the notion of European settlement and its impact on Aboriginal Australia,” said Richard Mills, Artistic Director, Victorian Opera.
“Far from being a sermon about the evils of colonialism, the story explores with humour and pathos the imagined debate amongst the leaders of the Eora people about whether to welcome these new visitors to country on their magnificent ships.”
“Our cast features a distinguished group of First Nations performers who have chosen to embrace the complex art form of opera, emphasising its commonality with ancient ceremony and storytelling which will speak with freshness and immediacy to contemporary audiences,” said Mills.
Testament to the power and potency of Jane Harrison’s story, The Visitors has had numerous multi-artform retellings. It’s earliest iteration as a play opened at the 2020 Sydney Festival under former Moogahlin Performing Arts Artistic Director, Frederick Copperwaite.
A new staging is currently being presented by Sydney Theatre Company with direction by Wesley Enoch AM who himself programmed the play’s premiere in his previous capacity as Sydney Festival Artistic Director. And Harrison has subsequently written a novel of the same story, recently published by HarperCollins in August. The film rights of The Visitors have also been optioned.
Conductor: Phoebe Briggs | Director: Isaac Drandic | Featuring: Jess Hitchcock, Shauntai Sherree Abdul-Rahman, Lillian Fromyhr, Zoy Frangos, Marcus Corowa, Elias Wilson, Eddie Muliaumaseali’i, Victorian Opera Chamber Orchestra | Designer: Richard Roberts | Lighting Director: Rachel Burke | Composer: Christopher Sainsbury | Librettist: Jane Harrison
Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Season: 18 – 21 October 2023
For more information, visit: www.victorianopera.com.au for details.
Image: Jess Hitchcock, Shauntai Sherree Abdul-Rahman, Lillian Fromyhr, Zoy Frangos, Marcus Corowa, Elias Wilson and Eddie Muliaumaseali’i – courtesy of Victorian Opera