Category Archives: opera

We launch our ‘Friends of the Opera’ scheme

become a friendRecently, we offered an opportunity for a lucky subscriber to win free tickets to see ‘…into the Shimmer Heat’ our dazzling new chamber opera in development, premièring in Perth, Western Australia, later this year. Many people subscribed to this blog and we thank you for keeping in touch with our blog posts by email.

We’ve set up a new page called ‘Become a friend’ which describes the many benefits becoming a friend can bring and you can go straight to the page here.

In order to become a friend, you have to send an email. We hope that you do as you will get a lot more than just having our blog posts drop into your in box.

David Pye, Phil Thomson and Lee Buddle

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Sara Macliver shines in world premiere

David Pye of the Nova Ensemble writes:

I was fortunate to be at the world premiere of Iain Grandage’s new song cycle – Life Stories – during the recent Perth International Arts Festival. It’s a significant addition to the repertoire, and Sara’s performance was immaculate.

sara macliver

Sara Macliver

Neville Cohn’s review in the West Australian is here

Sara’s understanding of music ranging from the baroque to contemporary is unparalleled in Perth – what an intelligent singer she is! I can’t wait to work with her in Nova Ensemble’s new opera into the SHIMMER HEAT in October at the new WA State Theatre Centre.

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Puppets in Opera

‘Into the Shimmer Heat’ isn’t the first opera that features puppets and puppetry.

Puppets have been used in Opera since the first recorded instance in Venice in 1679.

More recently the film director Antony Minghella worked with the UK’s Blind Summit Theatre to include puppetry in Puccini’s ‘Madama Butterfly’ for the English National Opera

Improbable Theatre‘s Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott used puppetry with their production of Phllip Glass’s all-Sanskrit opera for the New York Met about Gandhi’s early life, Satyagraha. Crouch and McDermott, better known as the guys behind  Shockheaded Peter made some extraordinary images using puppetry

satyagraha by the New York Metropolitan Opera

Satygraha for the Metropolitan Opera

The production of ‘Into the Shimmer Heat’ carries on this great tradition by bringing two of the finest puppet artists in Perth, Jo Foley and Ian Tregonning to work together to create moments of extraordinary puppetry for this chamber opera.

A camel is created and animated out of the wreckage of a hot air balloon to carry the mute girl into the shimmering heat of the outback.

opera camel

There are scale changes to show distance and insignificance in the face of the enormous Australian landscape

small opera puppets

Of course with two highly talented puppeteers and theatre makers on the creative team, this production will be a visual feast as well as an aural experience.

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5 Must-See Shows in Perth in 2011

If you’re into locally created original theatre and live performance, and you live in or visit Perth, Western Australia, here are my top 5 must see shows this year…

FEBRUARY: Waltzing the WilarraThu 3 Feb – Sun 6 Mar 2011
Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company (Australia)
By David Milroy
A teaming of two of Australia’s leading Indigenous theatre makers, David Milroy (Windmill Baby) and Wesley Enoch (The Sapphires), Waltzing the Wilarra is an original music theatre work featuring an all-star Indigenous cast.
MARCH: Tim Minchin vs The West Australian Symphony Orchestra – Fr1 4 Mar 2011  (Sold Out) – Sat 5 Mar 2011
Comedy rock superstar, Tim Minchin, is back on the road with his biggest live show ever. This show includes brand new songs as well as those much loved Minchin classics, but this time, as you’ve never heard them before – with the 55 piece West Australian Symphony Orchestra.
JUNE: Rising Water25th Jun 2011 – 17th Jul 2011
Black  Swan State Theatre Company
By Tim Winton
Full of the compassion and larrikin humour that are the trademark of Winton’s work, chronicling the lives of outsiders and fringe-dwellers in his unmistakably Western Australian voice
Into the Shimmer Heat
OCTOBER: Into the Shimmer Heat – October 8 – 22, 2011
Nova Ensemble
written and directed by Phil Thomson
DECEMBER: EARTH – December 1-11 2011
Resulting from a year-long process with the finest performing talent under 25 years old in Western Australia, EARTH is a performance that will speak with a contemporary and edgy youth voice. EARTH marks the first in the three year trilogy of originally devised youth theatre ‘Earth, Wind and Fire’

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Baritone Robert Hofmann

Robert Hofmann

Over two metres tall, Robert has an imposing stage presence perfect for his role as the powerful Explorer.

Robert has a Diploma of Opera from Sydney Conservatorium of Music and Bachelor of Music Education from University of Western Australia.

a fine comic touch, allied with a resonant voice
[Opera Britannia]

For the West Australian Opera his roles include Larkens/Billy in The Girl of the Golden West, Dulcamara in The Elixir of Love, Police Officer in The Barber of Seville, John Styx in Orpheus in the Underworld, High Priest of Baal in Nabucco, The Bonze and Imperial Commissioner in Madam Butterfly, Old Hebrew in Samson and Delilah, Judge/Tzar Ivan in Candide, Dottore Grenville and Commissionario in La Traviata, 2nd Armed Man in The Magic Flute.,  Hobson in Peter Grimes and Koko in The Mikado.

For other companies roles include Apprentice in Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg for Opera Australia, Bobby in Mahagonny Songspiel (UWA), Don Curzio in Le Nozze di Figaro, The Chaplain in Dialogue of the Carmelites and Aeneas in Dido and Aeneas (Sydney Conservatorium,) Tamino in The Magic Flute (Pacific Opera, Sydney), J. Strauss II in The Great Waltz (Rockdale Opera, Sydney)

Robert’s appearances as a concert soloist include Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s Mass in B minor, Vaughan William’s Five Mystical Songs and Messiah for St Georges Cathedral; Carmina Burana for UWA Music and Collegium Symphonic Chorus; Stravinsky’s Les Noces and Rossini’s Messe Solennelle for Sydney Conservatorium; Berlioz’s The Childhood of Christ, Bach’s Mass in B minor, Dvorak’s Stabat Mater, Haydn’s Creation, Messiah and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio for UWA Choral Society. Robert is a versatile singer who also sings musical theatre numbers and enjoys crossing over to the great popular standards of the 20th Century.

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The Silent Opera

David Pye, Phil Thomson and Lee Buddle

This from an article in the West Australian newspaper

Time will tell whether making a landmark WA opera about a teenager who can’t sing because she is mute will be a stroke of genius or madness. Perhaps the deaf, dumb and blind kid Tommy, who played a mean pinball in the Who’s 1970s rock opera, or Procne, whose tongue was cut out by her jealous husband in Richard Mills’ The Love of the Nightingale, guided the thinking of composers David Pye and Lee Buddle and librettist Phil Thomson in creating their new chamber opera Into the Shimmer Heat.

Or, perhaps not.

“It really comes out of the story-line,” says Pye of the central character, Nina, who will be played by a dancer. This production, which will have its world premiere in Perth late next year, has been brewing for 16 years. Into the Shimmer Heat has finally been given its chance to bubble into life through a large injection of cash from the State Government’s now-defunct Major Production Fund.

When it opens in the new Heath Ledger Theatre in October next year, 16-year-old Nina, rendered silent and sullen by the grief of her father’s death, will soar with her mother in a hot-air balloon above the heads of the audience. It will be a striking start to an opera about love, loss, life and the struggle of non-indigenous people to come to grips with Australia’s vast landscape.

Flying across the desert, Nina is glued to her iPod as her mother sings of her love for the huge, empty land below. But a storm strikes and her mother plummets to her death, leaving Nina trudging through the desert and hallucinating into existence a camel as her companion. Her mother’s ghost comes across a waterhole inhabited by other spirits.

Nina later arrives at the oasis but it is reserved for those who embraced the land before they died. She is cast out by spirits but rescued by her mother and father, who return her to health and encourage her to leave for good to live out the rest of her life

Nova Ensemble, the fine-music group led by Pye and Buddle, has received $390,000 from the MPF for Into the Shimmer Heat, which involves some of WA’s leading independent performing artists across music, theatre, dance, puppetry and design. Also on board is Opera Australia artistic director Lyndon Terracini in a mentoring role.

The two-year fund concluded last year after dispensing $2.1 million between six projects. They include Marrugeku’s 2009 Burning Daylight national tour, Yirra Yaakin’s Aboriginal musical Waltzing the Willara for the 2011 Perth International Arts Festival and a Thin Ice/WA Opera’s co-production of Richard Strauss’ Elektra in 2012.

Pye says the development and production costs for Into the Simmer Heat will be about $800,000, so half will need to come through sponsors, philanthropists and the box-office during its likely two-week season.

The announcement of the MPF in late 2007 came like drought-breaking rain for Pye, Buddle and Thomson after years of perseverance but diminishing expectations that the opera would be anything more than presented in concert version.

“I think it is an awesome, heaven-sent opportunity to make a bit of a splash and create something on a grander scale because there is the money to do something properly,” Pye says. “The whole concept of putting together a pot of money that the smaller companies can access to realise their vision is extraordinary.”

The project began in 1995 with a chat between Pye and Spare Parts Puppet founder Peter Wilson about the junk opera Shockheaded Peter. “We were just having a discussion about puppet operas generally and the lack thereof,” says Pye, who commissioned Thomson to write the libretto.

A series of music and puppetry workshops followed. “We came to the conclusion that we had a good opera but that singing puppets wasn’t the way to go,” Pye says. “They are very impersonal and tended to make people laugh rather than address the serious emotional message behind the opera.”

What they settled on were some small marionettes to alter the scale of characters walking across a distant sand dune and Philippe Genty-style manipulation of objects such as wicker, sticks and fabric from the wrecked balloon morphing into the hallucinatory camel.

Pye says the opera is intended to ask questions about how outsiders find a place in the ancient Australian landscape. “We all feel very strong that it is very important that non-indigenous people also find a relationship with the landscape . . . because a lot of people feel quite dislocated and many people in the city are afraid to go out into the bush. I think if we are truly going to look after the country we live in, we are going to have to find a way to form a relationship with the land.”

A young WA dancer, who is yet to be named, will play Nina with the other roles taken by soprano Sara Macliver, mezzo-sopranos Xiaojia Zhang and Fiona Campbell and baritone Robert Hofmann. The Nova Ensemble will perform in the pit, from which the spirits will rise up on to the stage aided by designer Alan Murphy, choreographer Danielle Micich and puppeteers Ian Tregonning and Joanne Foley.

“There are spectacular visual scenes, high emotion, love arias, death and so on and so forth,” Pye says. “We tried very deliberately to make it very approachable for the average person. We are not writing for ivory-tower listeners and we are certainly not aiming for just the opera public. We are trying to present a 21st century version of opera which tells stories that are relevant to us today as West Australians.”

‘A lot of people feel quite dislocated and many people in the city are afraid to go out into the bush.’

The Nova Ensemble will hold more workshops in the new Heath Ledger Theatre in December to test technical aspects of the venue.

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