26 April 2024

Is the National Opera's Canberra focus calling you for its chorus?

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Tristan Entwistle

If you can sing and read a score, you could be part of the National Opera. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Have you ever wanted to sing your heart out in the triumphal chorus from Aida or the Merry Widow? If you’re a Classic FM listener, do you roar along with the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves in Nabucco and dream of being on stage?

In Europe, each city has its home-grown heroes and houses, people and places where operas and music flourish.

Now the National Opera team hopes they can build that same momentum here in Canberra, with a focus on nurturing talent in their home town – and a chance for everyone who can read a score and hold a note to sing in a community chorus.

President Andrew Barrow explains there’s been a real shift in European opera houses where local singers now predominate. In turn that’s brought many Australian singers home, creating a significant opportunity for emerging companies like theirs.

“The future for us is now very much about Canberra,” he explains. “Many of our rising stars are moving back home, and that includes coming back here.

“It’s an exciting time and it will be a giant coup to have some of these singers on board.”

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Marketing director Katrina Wiseman says that along with the local realignment, they’re strongly encouraging singers to join the company’s community chorus.

“We want to ensure we’re engaging with the artists and audiences,” she says. “This should be a chance for everyone to develop their skills, so if you’ve always wanted to sing and have a musical background, we’re actively welcoming you to come and join in.”

The National Opera’s leads are all professional singers and the company is working to ensure that people who passionately love their craft but also need to support themselves by working elsewhere get the chance to continue crafting their careers.

“Canberra is an expensive town, so we want to give people the chance to work and live and keep singing,” Katrina says.

“Our lead singer in Suor Angelica is a full-time midwife who has sung with Opera Australia and Opera Western Australia.

“Being able to sing with us fills the gap and means people don’t give away music. Our job is to keep people here and constantly build the standards.”

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The need for a dual career is something also recognised by the ANU School of Music, where double degrees have flourished in recent years – Katrina is herself a product, with a degree in Music Performance and Mathematics.

“It’s a necessity but it also makes you a much more versatile person for your whole career,” she says.

“If you are building your career we want to help in a way that works for you, acknowledges the demands of work and family, but invests in the future.”

This year will be the company’s biggest season since inception. After the completely sold-out production of Suor Angelica at Albert Hall, a Mothers Day concert is next on the agenda, themed around “Things my Mother Made”.

“We’ve taken a slightly different angle, we’re looking at the women who have built our society and impacted our lives,” Katrina says.

The concert is being held at the beautiful Ainslie All Saints Church on 12 May.

The June Winter Gala will feature the community chorus under the baton of Louis Sharp, well-known to Canberrans for his work with the National Capital Orchestra. It will be a mix of favourites and some completely new pieces.

In July, international superstar Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg returns from Europe, bringing her Echoed Voices recital with Nico de Villiers to Albert Hall and, in August, the company’s major production is The Merry Widow, at the Q Theatre in Queanbeyan.

The National Opera Community Chorus meets weekly on Wednesday evenings, find out more from the company’s website.

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