Chance to catch opera in the bush

WHILE country music is king and queen in Tamworth this week, opera provides other royal stars in three shows at Armidale from tonight.

A unique collaboration between up-and-coming opera singers from Sydney and Brisbane and a creative team in Armidale is bringing to life a vision for a dynamic regional arts company.

Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro will be the inaugural production of Opera New England, formed last year by conductor Bruce Menzies and creative impresario George Torbay.

The two believe Armidale is uniquely located to be able to offer young up-and-coming opera singers from both Sydney and Brisbane a critical opportunity to be able to perform in a full, professionally produced opera early in their career.

The project is modeled on the famous Glyndebourne Festival in England, started in similar circumstances in 1934 and now presenting about 120 performances a year to an audience of around 150,000.

Mr Menzies said Armidale has the location, the raw instrumental and production talent and in The Armidale School’s Hoskins Centre, the venue to be able to develop a similar opportunity in Australia.

“While we’ve worked on many shows together, the premise on this was different because we needed trained voices for opera. We started with people we knew and the two conservatoriums also offered up suggestions,” Mr Menzies said.

George Torbay said while some residents travel to metropolitan areas for opera, the project would bring it to the region in an exciting and accessible way.

“We didn’t initially think of it as also giving voice students a bridge between their studies and professional roles. However there aren’t many opportunities for them to sing roles in full before they audition with professional companies.”

Tabatha McFadyen, who as Susanna is on stage for most of the production, agrees.

“We’ve all sung arias and ensemble pieces but to sing roles in their entirety is a completely different beast. There is no way you can learn pace and stamina except by performing a complete work – and to be able to do that with people from Sydney, Brisbane and Armidale in a regional setting, is thrilling.”

Voice students from the Sydney and Brisbane Conservatoriums of Music have been learning their roles for some time, ahead of moving into a TAS boarding house for intensive rehearsals this week. An 11-piece orchestra comprising musicians from Armidale and Canberra will include a harpsichord, an instrument favoured by Mozart.

The show marks a special return to his hometown for Queensland Conservatorium student Sam Payne, who plays Don Curzio.

“While a student at TAS I sung at a special fundraiser for the Hoskins Centre, and to be able to come back and perform opera with such talented people is a real privilege,” he said.

The Marriage of Figaro is one of Mozart’s most popular comic operas about a philandering Count Almaviva who fancies bride-to-be Susanna who is about to marry the count’s valet, Figaro. 

Of course Susanna is also the maid for the count’s long suffering wife and together with Figaro they plot to expose the womanising count. Thrown into the mix is the young and amorous Cherubino who fancies anyone in a skirt but especially the countess. Things get quite hot as plot and counter-plot abound in this tale of love, jealousy and intrigue. 

The Marriage of Figaro will be performed tonight and tomorrow night at 7.30pm with a Sunday matinee at 2pm.

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