Stars – and skies – align to deliver a successful Festival of Outback Opera

4 minutes read

The sun has set on the inaugural Festival of Outback Opera, presented by Opera Queensland in association with Camerata – Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra, bringing great stories, artists and powerful music to almost 2000 people in the state's outback.

Acclaimed singer and headline act Teddy Tahu Rhodes made his Opera Queensland debut during the Festival, which took place in Longreach, Winton, Barcaldine, Blackall and Windorah from 19 – 27 May 2021.

The eight-day celebration kicked off with a special edition of Opera Queensland’s popular participatory event Sing Sing Sing where more than 160 people raised their voices in song at Winton’s North Gregory Hotel.

Are You Lonesome Tonight, a new work celebrating Opera and Country music, played to an estimated total audience of 1200 at the iconic Waltzing Matilda Centre at Winton, Stockman’s Hall of Fame at Longreach, Barcaldine Showgrounds, Blackall Woolscour and Windorah Rodeo Grounds.

Opera fans and first-timers alike travelled across Australia to witness two spectacular outdoor concerts, Dark Sky Serenade at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs in Winton and Singing in the Night at Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach.

In total, more than 1700 people enjoyed a Festival of Outback Opera event, many reporting to have travelled more than 1000 kilometres to attend, some from as far away as Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.

At Dark Sky Serenade, audiences watched the sun set and the Milky Way emerge while listening to the songs of Mozart, Bizet, Rossini and Rodgers and Hammerstein, among others.

Audiences at Singing in the Night were immersed in beautiful music enjoying works from composers including Verdi and Puccini and much-loved musical numbers from shows such as South Pacific, and My Fair Lady.

The performances were led by Australian conductor Vanessa Scammell who curated the program with Camerata’s Artistic Director Brendan Joyce.

Opera Queensland CEO & Artistic Director Patrick Nolan said it was a coup to secure New Zealand-born bass-baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes for the special celebration which coincided with Opera Queensland’s 40th anniversary.

“The stars – and Trans-Tasman bubble – aligned and we were thrilled that Teddy was able to join us for one of Opera Queensland’s 2021 highlights,” Nolan said.

“Teddy is one of the great voices of contemporary opera and has amassed a legion of fans for his performances in productions of Don Giovanni and Tosca, as well as a dazzling career in musicals.”

Sharing the open-air stages with the ARIA and Helpmann Award-winning performer was an ensemble of Opera Queensland artists including Eva Kong (The Marriage of Figaro; A Flowering Tree), Kang Wang (Opera Queensland Under the Stars), Opera Queensland 2021 Young Artist Xenia Puskarz Thomas (The Marriage of Figaro; Opera Queensland Under the Stars) and Jason Barry-Smith.

Director of Learning, Regional and Community Mark Taylor said he was delighted to see the inaugural Festival bring joy and happiness to remote communities after a period of profound hardship.

“I really hope this will be the first of many festivals in the Outback,” Mr Taylor said.

“Queensland is a huge state and as the state’s opera company, our stage is the whole of Queensland and that is where we want to be performing.”

Mr Nolan said the Festival of Outback Opera was a wonderful opportunity to show Queensland that opera as an art form is not confined to theatre stages in capital cities.

“Anyone who is excited by great stories and powerful music can connect with opera,” said Mr Nolan.

“Our vision is to grow a community connected by the transformative power of opera. The Festival achieved this through five performances of Are You Lonesome Tonight, two gala concerts and our pop-up Sing Sing Sing in Winton.

“We are grateful for the support of the Premier’s Outback Tourism fund, which provided us with funding for the Festival. We extend special thanks also to the Winton, Longreach, Barcaldine, Barcoo and Blackall and Tambo Councils who backed our dream to create a Festival that shone a light on all that opera and the Outback had to offer.”

The Festival of Outback Opera was funded under the Year of Outback Tourism Events Program.