Mozart, Puccini, Rossini… they can’t get enough opera on the Gold Coast. Seriously. The numbers prove it. By the time the 2015 Bleach* Festival wraps up, around 14,000 people*, most of them locals, will have either participated in, or have been in the audience for, the 7 opera performances on offer by Opera Queensland and/or Opera Australia over the past year. As the National Opera Review rolls out its public consultations across the country and companies all over the world are re-imagining what this amazing 400 year old art form might mean to a contemporary community, audiences on the Gold Coast, in characteristically exuberant style, are showing Australia what the popular future of opera might be. Not one of those experiences could be called “conventional”. Whether presented on one of the Gold Coast’s famous beaches, or in a theatre, a street or a park, each of those seven performances has been specifically designed to directly connect with the local community.
Just to recap: Opera Australia’s Opera on the Beach in partnership with Bleach* Festival, was magnificently produced on an epic outdoor stage embedded into the sand and visible all the way down the high-rise strip in Coolangatta. Festoon lighting and food vans gave the event a carnival atmosphere, the audience sat in beach-chairs and local participants, both chorus and the surf-club were integrated into the show featuring the sound of the surf mingled with Mozart’s Magic Flute. Just three months later the Gold Coast was the first of 8 communities involved in OperaQ’s Project Puccini, with a local chorus of 36 adults and 12 kids giving two performances (matinee and evening) of La Bohème, in partnership with The Arts Centre Gold Coast. The participants’ commitment to the intensive 10-week Project Puccini preparation program was rewarded by a rapturous response from a surprisingly young and dressed-to-kill audience.
This year OperaQ is road-testing something completely new. The Adventures of Figaro is a version of Rossini’s Barber of Seville that can – and will – be performed pretty much anywhere. Re-imagining showbiz traditions of a former era, we’re taking our troupe of 8 fabulous singer/actor/musicians in a bold cabaret style production with spectacular costumes designed for pubs, community halls, nightclubs… wherever we’re invited! We’ll do whatever it takes to get Rossini’s fabulous musical sit-com to as many people as possible.
And we’re super-excited to be back on the Gold Coast as part of Bleach* 2015, bringing Adventures to thousands of locals in two free shows on street balconies in Palm Beach and in a park on Paradise Point. For musicians and singers more accustomed to the concert hall platform or the opera theatre, playing in close range to non-opera audiences in wildly different environments is guaranteed to get their adrenalin pumping!
All three of these specially-designed, high quality opera experiences – Opera on the Beach, Project Puccini and The Adventures of Figaro – show a new and very democratic way forward for opera in Australia. Each brings audiences and artists together in surprising and mutually-rewarding encounters. Each offers a refreshed and joyfully irreverent take on centuries-old performance traditions, and subverts typical stereotypes conjured up by the word “opera”.
I’m delighted, but I shouldn’t be surprised that these experiences have been embraced wholeheartedly and swiftly on the Gold Coast, one of Australia’s fastest-growing economies, our sixth largest city and biggest non-capital city, a city that’s shamelessly ambitious to make its mark on the world stage.
The energy around the arts on the City of Gold Coast is tangible and it’s utterly strategic: “The Gold Coast’s arts and creative community are leading a cultural revolution on the coast. The city is being re-imagined – our culture is energetic, unexpected and distinctly Gold Coast.” Using ebullient language not often found on local government websites, the City of Gold Coast is out and proud of their cultural ambitions. They talk about “mentoring local talent in non-traditional and innovative art forms” or supporting “local artists and cultural community through new initiatives and ensure they have the opportunities they need to thrive”, and have availed themselves of the wisdom, knowledge and vast experience of Robyn Archer. They have articulated a ten-year cultural strategy and have dedicated realistic funding to realise it. This future-oriented thinking is already bearing delicious fruit on the Gold Coast.
Last week when General Manager Russell Mitchell and I attended the launch of Bleach 2015 there was a buzz in the air. We were in the company of some of Australia’s cleverest creative people, some of them Gold Coast locals, others (like us) gravitating to the Gold Coast as a new creative hub, a place where audiences love an adventure and crazy ideas can be animated in contemporary dance, in circus, street arts, the visual arts and yes, opera. Louise Bezzina’s splendid 2015 Bleach* Festival, authentically inspired by the Gold Coast is plucky, edgy, welcoming, deep and rich. OperaQ is enormously proud to be part of this surprising “cultural revolution”.
Artistic Director, OperaQ