Victorian Opera returns to the stage in 2021 celebrating local talent and Australian opera. Among its ten productions, Victorian Opera presents the long-awaited revival of Richard Meale’s Voss, last staged in 1990; the high-octane rock musical The Who’s Tommy; and the world premiere of four new operas by local composers.
Adapting to current circumstances, Victorian Opera will expand its presence at larger venues such as the Palais Theatre in St Kilda, release subscription packages and single ticket sales quarterly, and stream multiple productions live and on-demand throughout its season.
“Victorian Opera’s Season 2021 marks a year of rebirth and rediscovery. After the dark days of 2020, our company is a little like an emerging butterfly; ready to fly at the end of a sombre time tunnel, yet, in some senses, wary of the unforeseen challenges,” says Artistic Director Richard Mills AM.
“Any crisis can also present opportunities, and while the company’s focus has always been on Australian creativity and performers, there is a special urgency in these times to treasure the talent on our doorstep. We shall enable its full potential to flower and to engage our loyal and supportive audience,” he added.
The Sleeping Beauty
Palais Theatre, St Kilda: 20, 23, 25 & 26 February
A magical fusion of larger-than-life puppetry and opera opens Victorian Opera’s Season 2021 in a charmingly playful retelling of The Sleeping Beauty by Italian composer Ottorino Respighi. Written in 1921 following the devastation of World War I and the Spanish flu, The Sleeping Beauty once again speaks to a world on its knees and offers a familiar story of hope and resilience. Conductor Phoebe Briggs and director Nancy Black revive their 2017 production, assembling a cast of singers and puppeteers on stage with Orchestra Victoria in the pit.
Echo and Narcissus / Cassandra
Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne: 17, 19 & 20 March
Ancient myths speak to modern times in a double bill commissioned as a response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Composer Kevin March and librettist Jane Montgomery Griffiths explore Echo and Narcissus; the myth of the talkative nymph doomed to repeat only the words she hears and the young man who, unable to tear himself away from his own reflection, turns into a narcissus flower on the riverbank. Composer Simon Bruckard and librettist Constantine Costi reimagine Cassandra; the young woman gifted with prophecy yet doomed never to be believed. Award-wining director Sam Strong makes his Victorian Opera debut and Simon Bruckard conducts.
“This new commission for 2021 is part of the company’s response to the coronavirus crisis. The production is being created with social distancing in mind and will be simultaneously livestreamed for audiences to watch online,” highlights Richard Mills.
The Pearl Fishers
Sidney Myer Music Bowl: 23 April
Pack a picnic and dive into a night of soul-stirring music with Georges Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers – Victorian Opera’s first outing at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Richard Mills conducts Orchestra Victoria with Elizabeth Hill-Cooper directing a semi-staged concert, starring Kathryn Radcliffe as Leïla, Carlos Bárcenas as Nadir, Stephen Marsh as Zurga and Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Nourabad.
Parrwang Lifts the Sky
Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne: 12 June
Victorian Opera premieres Parrwang Lifts the Sky – a new opera by acclaimed Yorta Yorta soprano and composer Deborah Cheetham AO. It tells the creation story of the sunrise, from the oral history of the Wadawurrung people, whose country extends from Ballarat to the Bellarine Peninsula. The opera will be sung in English and Wadawurrung language.
“This will be a first for Victorian Opera, a First Nations Opera, with a creation story from our region, with sections performed in Wadawurrung language. The story of Parrwang, the magpie who lifts the sky to allow light to reveal the beauty of country, is a perfect operatic subject – grounded as it is in poetry and song. The whole company is excited and looking forward to this history making collaboration with a great First Nations artist,” Mills highlights.
Palais Theatre, St Kilda: 29, 30 June, 1 & 2 July
Victorian Opera’s Green Room Award-winning hit Lorelei – an operatic cabaret for a woke world, sold out its world premiere season in 2018 and enjoys a much-demanded second season. Divas Ali McGregor, Antoinette Halloran and Dimity Shepherd return as the highfashion sirens questioning whether their songs are as deathly as they’ve always believed. Phoebe Briggs returns to conduct this production directed by Sarah Giles.
“Lorelei is back by popular demand after a sold-out season in 2018,” says Mills. “As one of Victorian Opera’s most successful recent new works, it epitomises Victorian Opera’s reputation as a modern opera company.”
Palais Theatre, St Kilda: 4 August
Richard Meale’s lauded 1986 opera Voss, based on Patrick White’s famed novel with a libretto by David Malouf, receives its long-awaited revival. Considered the ‘great Australian opera’, it traces the journey of obsessive explorer Voss in the perilous Australian outback and his lover Laura, whom he leaves behind in colonial Sydney. Richard Mills conducts the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) in a semi-staged concert directed by Stuart Maunder AM – a co-production with State Opera of South Australia. Samuel Dundas and Emma Pearson appear as Voss and Laura in this one-night-only performance.
“Voss is Richard Meale’s first opera and a great landmark of music in Australia. It takes Patrick White’s novel to regions of expression that only opera can encompass; its genius is uniquely Australian, and it speaks to us and for us about our heritage and landscape,” notes Mills.
The Who’s Tommy
Palais Theatre, St Kilda: 13 – 21 August
The Who’s Tommy makes its Australian premiere, a year later than planned, in an electric production directed by Roger Hodgman, starring Mat Verevis, Amy Lehpamer, Paul Capsis and Kanen Breen. The five-time Tony Award-winning rock musical, featuring hit songs Pinball Wizard, I’m Free and Acid Queen is set to supercharge Melbourne.
The Butterfly Lovers
Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne: 13, 15 & 16 November
In collaboration with leading Singaporean theatre company Wild Rice, Victorian Opera premieres The Butterfly Lovers; a retelling of the Chinese legend of doomed lovers who find freedom as butterfly spirits. Richard Mills composes music to a libretto by Singaporean playwright and poet Joel Tan. Wild Rice’s Artistic Director Ivan Heng directs the production which will also be staged in Singapore.
“The Butterfly Lovers is a story about the power of love to transcend suffering and obstacles. Based on a famous Chinese story, this opera transcends all boundaries in the fundamental humanity of its characters and story. It is an enormous privilege to create this opera with Joel Tan as well as Ivan Heng and the phenomenal team at Wild Rice,” says Mills.
The Friends of Salamanca
Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne: 19 & 20 November
Season 2021 is rounded out with two works celebrating the next generation of talent. Franz Schubert’s The Friends of Salamanca receives its Australian premiere as Victorian Opera’s annual Youth Opera. Fabian Russell conducts a production directed by Elizabeth Hill-Cooper.
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Elisabeth Murdoch Hall – Melbourne Recital Centre: 3 & 4 December
In association with the Lisa Gasteen National Opera Program, Victorian Opera presents Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, based on Shakespeare’s Falstaff. Johannes Fritzsch conducts Ensemble Q in a semi-staged concert directed and adapted by Heather Fairbairn.
As Victorian Opera’s first quarterly release: subscriptions to The Sleeping Beauty and Echo and Narcissus / Cassandra are available now with a range of benefits and a 20% discount when purchased together. Single tickets go on sale on 10 December 2020.
Digital access for Echo and Narcissus / Cassandra, Parrwang Lifts the Sky and Voss can be purchased as a subscription or individually, with both live and on-demand streaming options available. For more information, including quarterly subscription and single ticket on-sale dates, visit: www.victorianopera.com.au for details.
Image: Victorian Opera’s 2021 Season Illustration by Hipworth