Macbeth behind a cauldron, with banquet in the foreground
Calendar, Food and Drink, Music, Opera, Performing arts, September 19

Macbeth’s Medieval Banquet at Brookfield Place

23 & 24 September @ Brookfield Place ·
Presented by Brookfield Properties and West Australian Opera ·

Brookfield Properties and the West Australian Opera will be teaming up once again to curate another dynamic and unique dining experience – ‘Macbeth’s Medieval Banquet at Brookfield Place’.

Taking creative inspiration from Shakespeare’s gripping classic, and the West Australian Opera’s upcoming season of Macbeth, those passionate about food, music, wine, art and entertainment are invited to enjoy a progressive culinary experience through the award winning-venues of Brookfield Place.

More info

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April 19, Calendar, Food and Drink, Music, Opera, Performing arts

Music & Feast: The Whole Beast – A Progressive Culinary Experience

17 April @ Brookfield Place ·
Presented by West Australian Opera ·

“If you’re going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing”
~ Fergus Henderson, BME (St John, London)

Deliciously dark and dramatic, indulge your senses as Brookfield Place partners with West Australian Opera to bring you a truly unique progressive culinary experience – The Whole Beast at Brookfield Place.

Taking creative inspiration from Fergus Henderson’s pivotal nose-to-tail tome, The Whole Beast, and the West Australian Opera’s 2019 season of Sweeney Todd, you’re invited to enjoy a progressiveculinary experience through the award winning-venues of Brookfield Place, where each course is expertly accompanied with matching wines and exclusive pre-season performances from West Australian Opera.

For those passionate about nose-to-tail dining, unexpected ingredients and opera, the event will behosted by acclaimed food writer and critic, Max Brearley who will guide guests across five venues at Brookfield Place and through the progressive four course menu where not everything will be – or taste – as it seems.

Offering a truly sensory experience that celebrates food, music, wine and art, the evening includes four courses, matching wines, a cocktail on arrival and the exclusive operatic performances.

Website for more info

Pictured: The Whole Beast Dinner

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Huge projection of a spider, towering over a tiny person as blood drips down the walls.
Music, News, Opera, Reviews

Opera at its most transformative

Perth Festival review: Komische Oper Berlin, Barry Kosky & 1927, ‘Mozart’s The Magic Flute‘ ·
His Majesty’s Theatre February 20 ·
Reviewed by Ron Banks ·

Although it’s called Mozart’s The Magic Flute, it should really be named Barrie Kosky and 1927’s Flute because this eye-popping, mind-bending interpretation of such a famous work was dreamed up by the Australian–born director and his British co-creators Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt of London-based performance company 1927.

A cast of 55 singers flown in from Germany, with the Komische Oper’s own conductor Hendrik Vestmann marshalling the forces of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, reactivated the old Maj stage in the dazzling style that has now become synonymous with Kosky.

Make that two casts of 55 singers plus technical staff flown in, because the opera is repeated on consecutive nights and the first cast gets a night’s rest while the other cast takes over.

What is totally different from conventional Flutes is the combination of live action on stage and projected animation. Providing much more than a backdrop, the performers interact as much with the images as with each other.

The animation sequences, which occur throughout the opera, were created by 1927’s Paul Barritt who, with Andrade, named the company after the year that sound took over from silent movies.

But here, 1927, Kosky and set/costume designer Esther Bialas look back to the silent era, with its chase sequences, costuming style and sub-titles. The men, in the main, wear 1920s suits; the women, flapper dresses and haircuts. The Queen of the Night, (Christina Poulitsi), is the exception; she’s portrayed as a spider with a large web. Papageno (Joan Martin-Royo) looks like silent movie star Buster Keaton and the chorus men are Abraham Lincoln look-alikes.

Blended into the silent movie imagery is old-style paper animation of cut-out cats, dogs, spiders, assorted monsters, human dentures and machinery with cogs and wheels that date back to the 19th century. Creativity and imagination run riot.

Two real people standing on a projection of a roof.
Joan Martin-Royo as Papageno and Iwona Sobotka as Pamina. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

With so much going on aesthetically, it is no wonder that the visuals consume the attention, and sometimes we have to remind ourselves that this is an opera – a comic one set in a dream-like fantasy world – where the human voice and its orchestral accompaniment are the essential elements.

Opera purists might suggest that directors Kosky and Andrade are so focused on the visuals that the sound element takes a back seat. Not so. WASO performs with its customary brilliance and the lead singers deliver their arias with wit and panache. The three young German lads (from Tölzer Boys Choir) who are the boy-spirit trio are delightful.

Opening night leads Aaron Blake and Iwona Sobotka, as the young lovers Tamino and Pamina, are accomplished and often thrilling in their vocal agility, not the least for having the courage to sing on a ledge high above the stage. At various points each of the principals has to negotiate tricky perches at some altitude, swiftly disappearing into the backdrop at the end of the aria.

Kosky and Andrade dispense with the speech elements in this sung-spiel opera, substituting simple film captions to explain the narrative. And with surtitles on television screens all around the Maj it is easy to follow the action – as convoluted and fantastic as Mozart and his librettist Schikaneder made it for the first performance in Vienna in 1791.

Paring out the dialogue makes for a speedy style, although nothing of the essentials of this story of lonely people looking for love and enlightenment in the face of physical trials is lost.

The Magic Flute is undoubtedly the most ambitious opera – in conceptual terms – to be mounted at the Maj, and can be counted a resounding success. It will long be remembered not only as a Festival highlight, but a major landmark in the State’s cultural history.

And don’t be put off by the high ticket prices – it’s value for money and transformative in the way we think about how opera can be performed.

The Magic Flute plays His Majesty’s Theatre until February 23.

Pictured top: The Queen of the Night (Christina Poulitsi) and Pamina (Iwona Sobotka). Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

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A man with a beard, in a waistcoat, shirt and scarf, with a gun. The colours he wears are sombre.
Music, News, Opera, Performing arts, Reviews

What did you say, Ned?

Perth Festival review: Lost and Found Opera, Ned Kelly ⋅
No.1 Mill, Jarrahdale, February 15 ⋅
Review by Ron Banks ⋅

Ned Kelly as an opera succeeds on a number of levels. It’s an unusual venue in the country, a smooth orchestra, strong performers, a well-drilled chorus, a story that is familiar to Australians. So what could go wrong?

It’s an acoustic disaster, that’s what’s wrong. With the singers unmiked, even though they sing in English, the cavernous space with its corrugated iron roof and open ends snatches away the words that spring from the mouths of the performers to the point where it is extremely difficult to understand what they are saying.

And that means it is impossible to follow the action as librettist Peter Goldsworthy deconstructs the life of Ned Kelly and reassembles it in short, choppy scenes that track backwards and forwards over his career as Australia’s most famous bushranger or bandit, or perhaps most controversial folk hero.

A crowd of colonial settlers at tables with a barmaid serving.
Fiona Campbell and the community chorus. Photo Toni Wilkinson

The opera starts promisingly enough with mezzo soprano Fiona Campbell as Ned’s mother Ellen standing centre-stage on the bare concrete floor of the abandoned Jarrahdale mill and telling the back story of the Kelly  family to the tune of The Wild Colonial Boy, one of two folk tunes appropriated by composer Luke Styles. Her diction is good in the opening number, but as the rest of the cast populate the stage the poor acoustics lead to bewilderment on the part of the audience.

“Can you understand what they are saying?” I ask my wife beside me on the comfortable scaffolding seating with its cushion on each seat. “No,” she says. As we file out after the show I ask if other people had been able to hear what the singers were on about. The answers were also negative.

Had the opera been sung in Italian we would have had surtitles, but I guess such technology would have spoiled the rustic atmosphere of the setting, which was entirely suitable to the colonial history of the story.

The acoustics of the venue is the culprit in the opera’s lack of comprehension because the singers, led by Sam Dundas as Ned, perform with admirable precision to music that is colourful and dramatic, (performed by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under conductor Chris van Tuinen). Composer Styles occasionally gives them difficult notes to negotiate in the sung-through style that owes more to Benjamin Britten than Verdi, so it is understandable that diction is sometimes going to be a problem.

Another problem, less serious, is that the expectations in the publicity material of some kind of gender-bending, off-the-wall production were never met. The production (directed by Janice Muller) has quite a traditional feel; there’s nothing to frighten the horses in its story-telling style. At one point one of the Kelly gang dons a dress, but I couldn’t grasp the meaning of this historical point (once again, defeated by acoustics).

My advice if you want to enjoy Ned Kelly: read up beforehand on the synopses in the program and take a torch to keep up to date on the progress of the scenes. That way it may be a fulfilling operatic experience.

In a strange way, despite the lack of comprehension of the meaning of each scene, Ned Kelly is a pleasurable experience. In the end, it was worth the hour’s coach ride from the city to be part of the Festival’s colourful history of new performances. But there is a lingering dissatisfaction that the question of the legacy of Ned Kelly – folk hero or cold-blooded killer? – was never answered.

Ned Kelly continues until February 19.

Pictured top: Sam Dundas performs with admirable precision as Ned Kelly. Photo Toni Wilkinson

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Soprano in red velvet dress is flanked by a tenor in tuxedo
News, Opera, Reviews

Opera’s heart of gold

Review: West Australian Opera, City of Perth Opera in the Park, La Traviata⋅
Supreme Court Gardens, February 2 ⋅
Review: Rosalind Appleby ⋅

For roughly 15 000 people in Supreme Court Gardens it was a night of chandeliers, velvet gowns and love. The insect repellent and picnic faded into the background as singers and musicians from the West Australian Opera and West Australian Symphony Orchestra brought La Traviata to life at Opera in the Park.

La Traviata was Verdi’s first venture into romantic realism and the story of a high class whore with a heart of gold has been one of opera’s top ten since its 1853 premiere. It’s a bulletproof opera and a safe bet for the annual Opera in the Park especially when conducted by WAO’s outgoing artistic director Brad Cohen and sung by a cast of local stars.

With the help of six large screens and racks of speakers the onstage action was projected across the park and broadcast live to regional centres around the state. The sound production was impressively crisp and clear although the camera operators were sometimes slow to find the appropriate singer.

The use of digital set design projected on the shell of the stage was a fabulous (wind resistant!) innovation. Vibrant red curtains framed the action and the French windows and chandeliers in Act One were an elegant backdrop to the love story of Violetta and Alfredo.

A soprano in glistening white evening gown
Elena Perroni grows into a noble Violetta. Photo supplied.

Elena Perroni made her role debut as Violetta manipulating her seductive velvet soprano with impressive technique. The soprano graduated last year from the Curtis Institute of Music and displayed her versatility and stamina as she transitioned across three acts from flirtatious courtesan (‘My day dawns and dies in pleasure’) to the vulnerable and noble lady who stole the hearts of everyone in the opera (and audience).

Paul O’Neill sang Alfredo with typical ardour, wooing Violetta with gleaming long lines touched with huskiness. James Clayton brought an unexpected warmth to the role of Alfredo’s father Germont – this is the man who breaks up their relationship after all! Ashlyn Tymms was an eloquent Flora and Rebecca Castellini, Jun Zhang, Mark Alderson and Robert Hofmann sang supporting roles.

The WA Opera Chorus under guest director Francis Greep sang with vehemence and immaculate sound.  Cohen shaped a sensual journey from his masses, from voluptuous chorus and ensemble numbers to the intimacy of Violetta’s Act Three dialogue with solo violin.

The decision to dispense with a director and instead present a concert performance had mixed results. The lack of movement (why are the characters in the conversation singing from opposite ends of the stage?) and the absence of props (where was the letter they kept talking about?) made the libretto confusing. It was an effort to suspend disbelief but eventually Verdi’s music won over and the abstract presentation of this most passionate of operas found a devastating route straight to the heart.

Pictured Top: Paul O’Neill and Elena Perroni. Photo supplied.

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Calendar, Choral, March 19, Music, Opera, Performing arts

Music: The Opera Gala

30 March @ Albany Entertainment Centre, Albany ·
Presented by Albany Arts Festival Season ·

This Albany Arts Festival highlight sees internationally-acclaimed baritone José Carbó and Scottish-Australian soprano Jenna Robertson perform alongside John Martin, one of Australia’s most loved pianists, and special guests; the voices of the Albany Choral Society conducted by Neville Talbot.

With a program including operatic arias and duets by Puccini, Rossini, Donizetti, Bizet, Massenet and Gershwin through to Australian composers, including world-premieres from Albany composer Sebastian Harris, this will be an unforgettable experience for Great Southern audiences.

More info:

Pictured: José Carbó and Jenna Robertson. Image by Will Perez Ronderos

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Features, News, Opera, Perth Festival

Composer gives speech for the voiceless

Award-winning composer Cat Hope will give a voice to the silenced when she returns to Perth to present the annual Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address on Thursday. Hope is currently based in Melbourne where she is head of the Sir Zelman Cowan School of Music at Monash University. The visit will be the first of several Hope will make to her hometown in the coming months.

Glanville-Hicks had a stellar international career and the address named in her honour provides a platform to challenge the status quo and raise issues of importance in new music. Hope is a fitting choice for the address with industry experience as a performer, curator, academic and advocate for gender equality.

Speaking on the phone from Melbourne she outlined her plans to use the Glanville-Hicks address to discuss gender inequality in the music industry.

“Some in the industry believe that gender equality is not an issue but there is now evidence to confirm women and non-binary individuals do not experience the same access to opportunities as men working as music creators. I’ll present this data and also suggestions on how we can develop change.”

Composer Cat Hope. Photo supplied

Hope’s advocacy for women and non-binary artists was galvanised by observing the treatment of women in public life.

“Women like Julia Gillard, Gillian Triggs – women just doing their job – were attacked for reasons that had nothing to do with their work. I realised that Australians operate within a systemic hierarchical structure and the arts are included in that, even though we may think we are more collaborative or left-leaning. We need to change the way we think, talk about and commission compositions across the full range of society, from individuals at a ground level to government policies at a federal level.”

In a tangible demonstration of putting change into action, Hope’s address will include the performance of a new work commissioned from artists she would not normally work with. Melbourne metal singer Karina Utomo will perform a composition for voice and electronics created collaboratively by Hope and Polish-Australian composer Dobromila Jaskot.

Utomo will also be starring in Hope’s first opera Speechless, to be premiered in February as part of the Perth Festival. In Speechless Hope’s concern for issues of social justice take on a large scale, as befits a work in the genre of opera which historically often drew on the issues of the time. The score is derived from drawings and graphics extracted from the 2014 Human Rights Commission report, The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention.

“Speechless is my personal response to Australia’s refugee crisis. When it first happened I was devastated and felt so helpless. I wanted to use music to activate the issue.”

The opera retains the conventional structure of arias, recitative accompanied by orchestra but Hope expands the horizon of opera according to her experimental practice and philosophy of inclusivity.

Utomo will perform alongside experimental vocalist Sage Pbbbt, Iranian-born singer Tara Tiba, opera singer Judith Dodsworth and a combined community choir of 30 voices. The opera has no libretto, instead the four soloists and choir will sing wordlessly (think Ennio Morricone mixed with experimental singer Cathy Berberian) in a fitting homage to people whose voices are rendered silent through political means. Instead the narrative will unfold through the music which will be performed by the Australian Bass Orchestra, an ensemble of low pitched instruments such as cellos, double basses, bass guitars, bass winds and brass, bass drums and electronics.

Hope composes her music using graphic notation and the score for Speechless is derived from the format of The Forgotten Children report. The singers and musicians follow specific colours and literally ‘read’ the report, following the up or downward trajectory of graphs, children’s drawings and photos.

The process may be unusual and technical, but Hope says the experience for audiences will be exhilarating.

“People will be challenged but it is ultimately rewarding. We’ve heard a lot of words and seen a lot of images and I think Australians are suffering from compassion fatigue. I hope the opera might give people a different way to grapple with the issue.”

Perth audiences can have a preview of Hope’s compositional style performed by Utomo at the Peggy Glanville-Hicks address on Thursday night. Hope will also be performing with her award-winning ensemble Decibel on Monday night at the Subiaco Arts Centre. Since founding in 2009 the six-piece electro-acoustic ensemble has become something of an Australian institution, renowned for their pioneering work with graphic notation and their commitment to commissioning Australian composers. The Decibel concert explores the vinyl record as a sound source, musical instrument and score.

The Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address is November 29. Decibel’s Revolution concert is December 3. Speechless will run February 26 until March 3.

Picture top: singer Karina Utomo. Photo: Paul Tadday.



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Calendar, Music, Opera, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Music: Speechless

26 Feb – 3 Mar @ Sunset Heritage Precinct ·
Presented by Cat Hope & Tura New Music ·

Imagine a world where you have no voice. That is the world for many in contemporary Australia who are silenced legally, politically or culturally.

Speechless – a powerful new opera by award-winning composer Cat Hope – is a personal response to the 2014 Human Rights Commission report ‘The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention’. Through a vocal language beyond words, Speechless is a channel for Hope to come to terms with the terrible things she sees perpetrated in her name by those in positions of power.

Speechless features one of Australia’s finest interpreters of contemporary vocal repertoire Judith Dodsworth, lead singer of the Australian heavy metal powerhouse High Tension Karina Utomo, one of Australia’s most distinctive voices in Iranian-born Tara Tiba, West Australian experimental vocalist Sage Pbbbt and award-winning visual artist and post-punk drummer Tina Havelock Stevens with a combined community choir of 30 voices, the Australian Bass Orchestra and Decibel new music ensemble.

While following the structure of conventional opera, Speechless’ unique score is derived from drawings and graphics extracted from the Report and performed using networked iPads. This World Premiere season is designed specifically for the new Sunset Heritage Arts Precinct.

Immerse yourself in a compelling, courageous and visceral sonic world.

A Perth Festival Co-Commission
Produced by Tura New Music

More info:

Pictured: Karina Utomom, credit: Paul Tadday

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Ned Kelly
Calendar, Music, Opera, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Music: Ned Kelly

15 – 19 February @ No 1 Mill, Jarrahdale ·
Presented by Lost & Found Opera ·

Lost & Found’s mission is to discover lost or forgotten works and present them in unique found spaces. This specially commissioned world premiere invites you into an old timber mill to discover a very different side to one of Australia’s iconic figures.

Composer Luke Styles and librettist Peter Goldsworthy weave together the common myth with lesser known extraordinary facts about the politics, loves and quirks of Australia’s legendary bushranger. Cross dressing, pig stealing, bee keeping, opium smoking, devout republican supporting, armour wearing loyal family men — that’s just part of the story of the notorious Kelly gang.

Superstar Australian baritone Samuel Dundas takes on the title role in a new-found space on the outskirts of Perth that provides the perfect setting, backdrop and link to Australia’s frontier past.

A Perth Festival Co-Commission

Presented in association with West Australian Symphony Orchestra

More info:

Pictured: Ned Kelly, credit: Jacqui Stockdale, Historia


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The Magic Flute
Calendar, Music, Opera, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Music: Mozart’s The Magic Flute

20 – 23 February @ His Majesty’s Theatre ·
Presented by Komische Oper Berlin, Barry Kosky, 1927 ·

Presented in association with West Australian Opera and West Australian Symphony Orchestra. Mozart’s master comedy opera is richly reimagined in a boundary-busting production created by internationally-renowned opera director Barrie Kosky and British theatre group 1927.

Blending animated film and live action in a gloriously ingenious kaleidoscope of 1920s silent movies, Weimar cabaret, dark humour and German expressionism, this visual fantasia is made for film buffs and art lovers, as well as fans of fine opera.

Kosky’s Komische Oper Berlin comes to Australia for the first time, accompanied here by West Australian Symphony Orchestra and 1927’s magical projected animations. Immense three-storey spiders, flappers and demons, butterflies and wolves – this wildly inventive The Magic Flute is like no other.

With its captivating and innovative staging, where film animation interacts with live singers, this production has thrilled audiences around the world. Now Australian audiences have the chance to see this most popular of operas performed as never before.

Presented by arrangement with Arts Projects Australia.

More info:

Pictured: The Magic Flute, credit: Iko Freese

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