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Current Productions

earth.voice.body

earth.voice.body

The Shape of the Earth
by Jack Symonds & Pierce Wilcox
 
La voix humaine 
by Francis Poulenc & Jean Cocteau
 
Quatre instants
by Kaija Saariaho & Amin Maalouf 
A new Australian work, a major statement by a leading living international composer and a radical interpretation of a 20th century classic: experience SCO’s aesthetic mission in a single evening.

Poulenc’s classic La voix humaine is a shattering portrait of lost love – as heard through only one side of a dramatic phone call. Celeste Lazarenko (The Rape of Lucretia) will inhabit this woman with her characteristic emotional truth. Kaija Saariaho’s Quatre instants also maps the terrain of intoxicated passion, but from a 21st century female perspective: an ocean of sound unleashed from the rich voice of Emily Edmonds (Owen Wingrave, His Music Burns). 
 
Directed together by Clemence Williams (Breaking Glass), these vivid monodramas of desire will be complemented by Jack Symonds’s The Shape of the Earth starring Mitchell Riley and directed by Alexander Berlage (Future Remains). Described by the SMH as “a hugely impressive co-creation… an outstanding tour-de-force of nuanced vocal flexibility, dissembling characterisation and physical theatre” in its one-off showing in 2018’s Resonant Bodies Festival, this contemporary gloss on Patrick White’s Voss pulls apart the voice to breaking point, before reconstructing an inner landscape of glowing intensity.
 
Three voices pushed to their limits; three bodies living extraordinary stories. 
Directors
Alexander Berlage & Clemence Williams
 
Lighting Design
Alexander Berlage
 
Sound Design
Benjamin Carey

Emily Edmonds
Celeste Lazarenko
Mitchell Riley
Jack Symonds

Gallery

Dates

29 September – 
7 October 2023

VENUE

Carriageworks
Bay 20
245 Wilson St Eveleigh NSW 2016

duration

2 hours & 10 minutes, including one 20 minute interval

TICKET prices

Available from Carriageworks in mid-2023

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We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we work and perform. We honour their elders both past and present, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

© 2020 Sydney Chamber Opera | Site designed & built by Anderson Chang

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Four Questions for Director Imara Savage

Four Questions for director imara savage

Awakening Shadows Director talks about making innovative stage work.

 1. How do you approach conceiving a staging for a production consisting of works by two composers where none of the material is conventionally operatic or dramatic?

We made the decision quite early on that we wouldn’t try to turn this into an ‘opera’ in a more conventional sense, by which I mean a “story” with “characters”.

Benjamin Britten’s five Canticles were not intended to be staged together in that way, and what was clear to me was that the themes, ideas and poetry are what create the dramatic arc of the work. As a creative team, we leaned into the historical form of the ‘Canticle’, and committed to an exploration of belief, passion and ritual. We talked a lot about Britten’s own relationship to faith and how that evolved through his music over his life – and from that we developed a loose arc of storytelling.

We then turned to the material that Luke Styles has composed to intersect Britten’s Canticles. Whilst Luke’s work is a direct response, it operates on a different textural plane. We were most struck by Luke’s exploration of the themes of light and dark, and the failure of language to communicate. Luke’s work uses all three singers from the Canticles and adds a soprano (Jane Sheldon), so we talked about the idea of a ‘chorus’ and how that might operate.

Whilst all this material is not conventionally dramatic in the way an ‘opera’ is (with stories and characters etc), there are indeed characters that emerge in the Britten even if only for the duration of one canticle (Abraham/Isaac/God/Narcissus/The Magi) – and you can’t really ignore them because they’re so recognisable!


On top of this, there is a kind of narrator (the tenor Brenton Spiteri) who leads us through the work, as well as the ‘chorus’ in Luke’s responses. From these ingredients and through research into Britten’s own evolving relationship with faith we then figured out what each piece was and how it fitted into the whole.

2. What thematic threads do you trace throughout the Britten Canticles and how do you go about realising these visually?

When first approaching the Britten, we listened to and read the text (poetry) again and again. We talked about the distilled quality of the works, how they felt like perfectly conceived miniatures reduced to their most potent form. There was no fat on any of them. What was also impossible to get away from was the religious imagery, and these Biblical/mythical characters or stories that have emerged from the Western canon. Sculpture was, in fact, the form we talked about being closest to representing Britten’s music, because it has the feeling of being a suspended moment captured in time. This led us, in turn, to the film technique of photogrammetry that filmmaker Mike Daly has used to create the visual language of the video work.

The arc of the whole derived mainly from interrogating the text for themes and charting Britten’s complicated relationship with faith over the course of his music and life, as he grappled with his Church’s stance on homosexuality, as well as on war and state- sanctioned violence. Very present in Britten’s art was the male body: love between men, violence and men, and binaries or certainties that moved towards a questioning of both self and belief. Coupled with this is a kind of simultaneous death, or annihilation of old systems and a re-birth to make way for something new – such as represented by the Magi in Canticle IV.

Canticle V, ‘The Death of Saint Narcissus’ always felt so radically different to the other works in tone, and had a kind of anarchic abandon. So we knew that was the end point of the work and that it felt very physically embodied and more performative than the other Canticles for our tenor, Brenton Spiteri. We knew he ended up as a flower in this Canticle – and our end point was the pool of Narcissus, so we reverse- engineered the rest from that point.

Still from Awakening Shadow film work by Mike Daly

"Very present in Britten's art was the male body: love between men, violence and men, and binaries or certainties that moved towards a questioning of both self and belief. Coupled with this is a kind of simultaneous death, or annihilation of old systems and a re-birth to make way for something new..."

3. What is the process of collaboration with set/costume designer Elizabeth Gadsby, filmmaker Mike Daly and lighting designer Alex Berlage? How do their aesthetics feed into your own vision?

I work very closely with my collaborators and these artists in particular- they all bring ideas to the table and we kick them around for a very long time (even longer this time because this production was delayed by Covid). Over time the ideas seem to evolve of their own accord and finally land somewhat organically – I think because of the sheer amount of discussions that have taken place. Mike Daly and Alex Berlage are both successful directors in their own right so they think about the work very holistically – as does Elizabeth Gadsby. Elizabeth and I in particular would have countless conversations (over a period of years in this case) and by the end I couldn’t honestly say whose idea was whose. The roles of director and designer feel almost arbitrary at this point. I think we just keep interrogating the work and challenging each other’s thinking until we are both satisfied that we have landed on the right idea.

I will also add that the other very significant part of the collaboration is the one that happens in the room with the performers and Jack Symonds the music director – they are also collaborators, because the rehearsal room always yields big discoveries. I’m lucky enough to work with a company, creatives and a group of performers who thrive on that kind of ongoing exploration in the room and are not afraid to make big changes to accommodate the work.

4. How does this production fit into the progression and evolution of your own work?

I do love a good story but much of the work that I have done with Sydney Chamber Opera hasn’t fallen into this category, meaning it’s not plot or character driven. This then requires a different kind of dramaturgy. There is more invention in this kind of work because it could literally take place anywhere and sometimes not even the ‘characters’ are defined.

It then becomes all about who they are and where they are at any given moment – and also how you go about creating meaning! I suppose much of the work I am doing with Sydney Chamber Opera could be categorised as ‘post dramatic’, where story and character aren’t centralised the way they might be in a traditional story.
In post- dramatic work there is more imposition from the creative team, it’s more auteur- driven and less ‘writer- driven’.

Consequently, there is a lot of work done with the creative team in the pre-production phase where we sit and talk about what holds the storytelling at any given moment: is it light, gesture, performers, video? I find it much harder working in this way – it’s more exposing because everything is an act of invention, and it’s hard to tell whether it will work until tech week. However, I find this kind of work pretty exciting!

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We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we work and perform. We honour their elders both past and present, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

© 2020 Sydney Chamber Opera | Site designed & built by Anderson Chang

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Four Questions for composer Luke Styles

Four Questions for Composer Luke Styles

How do you compose responses to Britten’s Canticles?

 1. As a composer, what is your relationship to the music of Britten?

I feel very close to Britten’s operatic and vocal music. I find his word setting superb and would hold Britten up alongside Purcell as the two composers in English whose word setting feels both completely natural and a seamless part of their original compositional voices.

In both his operas and vocal music Britten’s sense of drama and pacing are exemplary and are aspects of his music I am regularly learning from. He is a composer who understands the theatre.

I do wonder what would have developed out of his musical imagination had he studied with Alban Berg as was his plan at one stage. Would he have developed more radical harmonic and rhythmic aspects to his music? There are flashes of this potential Britten in works like Phaedra and the opera Death in Venice, but perhaps it is in his contemporary Tippett that the rhythmic and harmonic elements of music are more strikingly modern.

2. How did you approach the task of creating a work that both responds to Britten’s as well as standing on its own musically?

This was the biggest challenge of the commission and underpins the whole dramatic concept of the opera. In Awakening Shadow I took the decision that my scenes would create a separate musical world to the Britten, they would offer a clear musical break and hence make the scene structure of the work very clear. My scenes use non-pitched vocal sounds, they are at a different tempo from the Canticles that precede each scene, they are scored differently and (especially in the first three of my scenes) their melodic lines are fragmented.

What links my scenes to Britten’s Canticles are snippets of melody, rhythm and harmony which are snatched, out of context, and transformed in my scenes, simultaneously creating a musical link to the Britten but finding a new context for this material. The biggest link though between myself and Britten’s Canticles is through the adoption of the dramatic/conceptual themes in the Canticles and giving these my own treatment. These themes range from lightness and darkness, religion and faith, the environment and mutability. I play with these themes (which are within the Canticles) to transition between each Canticle and to change the perspective on the themes from how Britten explores them.

Still from Awakening Shadow film work by Mike Daly

"The biggest link though between myself and Britten’s Canticles is through the adoption of the dramatic/conceptual themes in the Canticles and giving these my own treatment. These themes range from lightness and darkness, religion and faith, the environment and mutability."

3. You’ve added a soprano and a violin to Britten’s total instrumentation. How have you treated the resulting vocal/ instrumental octet? 

The total ensemble moves in an arch away from and back to its full grouping. Along the way the voices come together in duos and solos with one voice in particular, the Soprano, having a heightened dramatic role in my scenes, brought about by its absence in the Britten Canticles. This reaches its apex in the scene of mine titled Nova Stella.

The violin is the only instrument that doesn’t get a solo in the opera, but I have tried to insert soloistic moments for the violin into a number of my scenes, most predominantly in the very opening scene of the opera. It is my gesture towards balancing the violin’s absence in the Britten and to give it a dramatic capacity to suggest something different, or something new in my scenes, just like the soprano voice.

4. How does this piece sit in your own development as a composer? What was it like returning to it in quite a radical revision from its original conception?

This is my most recent opera to be performed (I currently have new opera projects in development, which are again quite different from this opera) and it is my only opera that has its starting point in one of my earliest operas, Wakening Shadow. Because of this, it represents very current musical interests of mine in how I am writing for voices and the creation of abstract drama in an operatic space. Most of my other operas are more traditional in their narrative function whereas throughout my career I have been creating dance, circus and movement works that are more abstract theatre. Awakening Shadow is an expression of this more abstract form of storytelling within the frame of an opera.

I felt a real freedom to approach Awakening Shadow in this way because it involved going back to my earlier opera Wakening Shadow as a departure point, rather than starting completely afresh. I looked at the earlier opera and decided I needed to be more radical in my relationship to the Britten Canticles and exploration of themes and I needed to both find new text and a new musical approach to allow me to do this.

It feels right to have created an opera that sits in almost the same orchestration as the Britten Canticles and by doing this my scenes and the Canticles feel like they have been created in the same spirit as they fuse together on their own dramatic/musical journey.

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We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we work and perform. We honour their elders both past and present, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

© 2020 Sydney Chamber Opera | Site designed & built by Anderson Chang

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Creative Residency 2022

Imara Savage, Mike Daly & Elizabeth Gadsby during filming of La Passion de Simone (2019)

creative residency
2022

Sydney Chamber Opera is thrilled to announce a Creative Residency for the theatre team of Director Imara Savage, Designer Elizabeth Gadsby, Lighting Designer/Director Alexander Berlage and Filmmaker Mike Daly to create two new productions during the 2022.

The first is the world premiere of Mary Finsterer and Tom Wright’s Antarctica, presented by SCO and leading Dutch new music ensemble Asko|Schönberg in the 2022 Holland Festival. (June, Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ, Amsterdam). This will be SCO’s European debut and a major international co-production.

The second is an Australian-first staging of Benjamin Britten’s Canticles, interwoven with the Australian premiere of Sydney-born composer Luke Styles’s response to them, Awakening Shadow (September-October, Carriageworks, Sydney). This work forms the latest instalment of SCO’s ongoing residency at Carriageworks, and is a co-presentation with Carriageworks.

This award-winning creative team last collaborated in 2019 for the SCO/Sydney Festival production of Kaija Saariaho’s 
La Passion de Simone, described by Time Out as “bold, uncompromising and musically spectacular… extraordinarily rich and rewarding.”

Imara Savage will also work with SCO on a development of a new work by Australian composer Paul Stanhope and playwright Wendy Beckett on the life of Camille Claudel.

Jack Symonds, Artistic Director of Sydney Chamber Opera says “What this team delivered for La Passion de Simone was one of the most outstanding collaborations I’ve witnessed in this genre and I couldn’t be happier that they are making not one but two major new works for us across this year. Their combination of bold vision, originality, aesthetic discipline and an unswerving quest to reveal the heart of a new work couldn’t be more aligned with what SCO strives for in every production. To be making our European debut with this team is a dream come true.”

Imara Savage

Director

“What I find exciting about working with SCO is that they consistently challenge assumptions about what opera is. They aren’t presenting work that fits neatly into categories but testing the outer limits of what this art-form can and might be.”

Elizabeth Gadsby

Designer

The projects I have created with Sydney Chamber Opera are among those I am most proud of. They are a company who constantly support creative risk taking, both in the works they program and the artists they employ.

The residency with Imara, Mike and Alex allows an artistic progression of the ideas and forms we began working with in La Passion de Simone. It is an invaluable opportunity to grow our collaborative practice.”

 

Mike Daly

Filmmaker

“I’m so excited to be collaborating once again with SCO alongside Imara, Elizabeth and Alex. Antarctica and Awakening Shadow are both achingly beautiful works about the precariousness and preciousness of the human condition.

Our collaborative process of constantly interrogating the music and libretto to push a work to its conceptual and emotional conclusions is always rewarding and we can’t wait to experience the results with an audience.”

Alexander Berlage

Director & Lighting Designer

“I have had some of the greatest artistic collaborations of my career working with Sydney Chamber Opera. SCO provides an integral space where artists can push the boundaries of design and staging of contemporary opera, a rare gift for artists and designers in this country”.

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We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we work and perform. We honour their elders both past and present, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

© 2020 Sydney Chamber Opera | Site designed & built by Anderson Chang

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Antarctica

Antarctica

By Mary Finsterer & Tom Wright

Australian Premiere

Sydney Chamber Opera premieres the newest opera by leading Australian composer Mary Finsterer.

Antarctica explores the historical, mythical and scientific conceptions and stories about the southern continent. With a mesmerising combination of musical elements from early and new music styles, we are transported into another world.

This fictional tale begins with three characters from the Age of Discovery miraculously conjured from the memory of a young girl: a cartographer, a natural scientist and a philosopher travelling by ship to Antarctica, all with different dreams and expectations concerning the mysterious landscape. But what they find is far greater than themselves…

Created by the outstanding production team behind La Passion de Simone, 2022 SCO Creative Residents Imara Savage, Elizabeth Gadsby, Alexander Berlage and Cannes award-winning filmmaker Mike Daly will interpret this new work alongside some of SCO’s favourite singers and the legendary Dutch new music ensemble Asko|Schönberg. Finsterer’s first opera for SCO, Biographica was described by The Australian as an “outstanding new opera deserving a permanent place in the repertory”, and expectations are high for her second. 

In order to prepare for her new opera, Finsterer organised a symposium at the University of Tasmania where she and librettist Tom Wright could meet with scientists from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies. In an age of increasing concern for our ecology, the displacement of populations and a heightened awareness of the vulnerability of our oceans, Antarctica is also an urgent story for today.

Conductor
Jack Symonds

Director
Imara Savage

Set & Costume Design
Elizabeth Gadsby

Video Artist
Mike Daly

Lighting Design
Alexander Berlage

Singers
Jane Sheldon
Jessica O’Donoghue
Anna Fraser
Michael Petruccelli
Simon Lobelson

With
Asko|Schönberg Ensemble
 

A co-production of Sydney Chamber Opera, Asko|Schönberg and Sydney Festival supported by Carriageworks and the NSW Government through Create NSW.

Gallery

Date & TIME

January 5-8, 2023

Jan 5-7, 7:30 pm
Jan 8, 3:00 pm

VENUE

Carriageworks
Bay 17
245 Wilson St Eveleigh NSW 2016

duration

80 minutes

TICKET prices

Discover More

Limelight
Read More
"This magnificent musical portrait of mankind’s slowly-shattered geopolitical dreams gives us an important opportunity to meditate on the relationship of our belligerent and expansionist civilisation to the only continent we have left uninhabited... Without doubt a milestone for Australian opera, and may also prove a landmark for the genre of chamber opera."
Theatrekrant
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"Asko|Schönberg and Sydney Chamber Opera go all out to produce a florid, epic performance... a clear, impressive aesthetic ...[where] music and text fit together seamlessly."
Het Parool
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"Finsterer expresses a personal contemporary variant of early baroque madrigal art, which made the contributions of Anna Fraser as the natural philosopher in particular a great pleasure... Director Imara Savage and designer Elizabeth Gadsby portrayed it all beautifully."
De Nieuwe Muze
Read More
"A fantastic staging... Finsterer has followed crystal clear paths in the elaboration of her icy material... an ingenious interweaving of metaphor, imagined events and mysteries... What was heard and seen resulted in a hallucinatory experience. Antarctica is food for thought."
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We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we work and perform. We honour their elders both past and present, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

© 2020 Sydney Chamber Opera | Site designed & built by Anderson Chang

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Past Productions

Awakening Shadow

AWAKENING SHADOW

By Benjamin Britten & Luke Styles

Australian premiere

A private window to the soul – a sequence of desperate prayers –
a crusade from belief to doubt. Awakening Shadow channels Benjamin Britten’s crisis of faith through the singing body.
In a first Australian staging, Britten’s five Canticles are entwined with a new work by leading Australian composer Luke Styles: a
fevered photo negative.

The Canticles are a seminal portrait of Britten’s musical voice, written throughout his life for partner and muse Peter Pears. An hour-long quintet of chamber works centred on a radiant
tenor (sung here by SCO favourite Brenton Spiteri – Oscar & Lucinda, Notes from Underground), their texts draw widely on
English literature: a medieval Miracle Play, Jacobean metaphysics, poetry by T.S. Eliot & Edith Sitwell. None is specifically liturgical,
though taken as one they reveal a complex faith.

Imara Savage (La Passion de Simone, Owen Wingrave, Fly Away Peter) directs alongside Cannes award-winning filmmaker Mike Daly as part of their 2022 Creative Residency at SCO, interrogating Britten and Style’s confrontation with the eternal to forge a path through one of the 20th century’s most intense works, reinterpreted for the 21st.

Director
Imara Savage

Video Artist
Mike Daly

Set & Costume Design
Elizabeth Gadsby

Lighting Design
Alexander Berlage

Music Director/Piano
Jack Symonds

Singers
Brenton Spiteri
Emily Edmonds
Simon Lobelson
Jane Sheldon

Piano sponsored by Kawai Pianos, Australia.

Gallery

Date

30 Sep,
1, 3, 4, 6, 7 Oct 2022
At 7:30 pm

VENUE

Carriageworks 
Bay 20, 245 Wilson St, Eveleigh

duration

80 minutes

TICKET prices

General Admission: $50
Buy your tickets here

Keep in touch

General Inquiries ​

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General Information

We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we work and perform. We honour their elders both past and present, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

© 2020 Sydney Chamber Opera | Site designed & built by Anderson Chang

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Blog Posts

IN SONG Biographies

IN SONG
BIOGRAPHIES

Jane Sheldon is an Australian-American soprano and composer. Praised by the New York Times for singing “sublimely”, the Sydney Morning Herald for “a brilliant tour de force”, and The Washington Post for “a stunning performance”, Jane has established an international reputation for performing highly specialized contemporary chamber opera and art music for voice.

She has appeared with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Pinchgut Opera, Ekmeles (USA), Talea Ensemble (USA), Sound Icon (USA), Ensemble Offspring, Halcyon, the Australian String Quartet, and Sydney Chamber Opera, where she is an Artistic Associate. She has appeared at numerous international arts festivals including Lincoln Centre Festival, Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival, Prototype Festival, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and Sydney Festival. Described as “riveting” (New York Times) and “gripping” (Limelight Magazine), Jane’s compositions focus on the body in altered or transformative states.

She is a 2021 Artist in Residence at the Sydney Observatory with Imara Savage and Elizabeth Gadsby. 

Anna Fraser has gained a reputation as a versatile soprano specialising predominantly in the interpretation of early and contemporary repertoire. Anna has had the pleasure of performing in a myriad of traditional and exploratory programming expertly demonstrating the versatility and virtuosity of a cappella singing. Anna is a graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and New England Conservatory (Boston) and furthered her studies in the Britten-Pears Young Artist Program featuring as a soloist at the Aldeburgh Festival (UK) under the direction of Richard Egarr and Antony Rolfe-Johnson. Equally at home as a dramatist on the stage presenting opera and historically informed chamber music, Anna is a strong exponent in music education, particularly with Moorambilla Voices, Gondwana Choirs, and NIDA as a guest lecturer.

Anna performs extensively with a number of Australia’s professional ensembles including Pinchgut Opera (since 2004 with notable roles in L’Orfeo, Dardanus, L’Ormindo, Castor et Pollux) and Cantillation, Sydney Chamber Opera (Dusapin’s Passion, Finsterer’s Biographica), Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Ironwood, The Acacia Quartet, Ensemble Offspring, Halcyon, Taikoz; Bach Akadamie Australia, Australian Haydn Ensemble, Salut! Baroque, Sydney Consort and Thoroughbass.

Anna performed as a core ensemble member of the Song Company for over a decade and has collaborated with international ensembles such as period specialists The Wallfisch Band (Bach Unwrapped cantata programmes at Kings Place, London) and the New Zealand String Quartet (Adam Chamber Music Festival, NZ; Canberra International Music Festival).

With a career that has spanned 4 continents, 85 operatic roles from the baroque to the newly composed, high respect as a pedagogue, a Helpmann Award nomination and superlative press reviews, Simon Lobelson has established himself as one of the most versatile baritones of his generation. Born in Sydney of Egyptian parents and brought up in Brussels, Simon graduated with distinction from Royal College of Music on scholarship, then studied with Sir Donald McIntyre and has since worked extensively as a soloist in Australia, the Middle East, Asia, the UK and Europe.

Oratorio appearances have included almost all the mainstream oratorio repertoire at venues such as the Sydney Opera House, Queen Elizabeth Hall, St. Johns Smith Square, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Sydney Town Hall and with the London Mozart Players, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Australian Haydn Ensemble, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, English Chamber Orchestra, Israel Camerata and the Lucerne Festival, under such conductors as Pierre Boulez, Charles Dutoit, Daniel Reuss, Reinbert de Leeuw, Richard Bonynge, Simon Halsey and Paul McCreesh. 

Simon has performed with many opera companies including Royal Opera House Covent Garden, English National Opera, Opera Australia, Young Vic, Pinchgut Opera, Sydney Chamber Opera and Canberra International Music Festival, in roles such as Amfortas, Escamillo, Rigoletto, Alberich, Marcello, Ford, Germont, Figaro, Michele and Don Alfonso, under such directors as Jean-Claude Auvray, Patrick Nolan, Ian Judge, John Copley, Bruno Ravella, Melly Still, Cheryl Barker and Jude Kelly. A champion of contemporary music, and creator of copious world premiere operatic roles, his recent performances as the main role in Metamorphosis for Opera Australia attracted outstanding press reviews and a Helpmann Award nomination.

He has recorded for Chandos and ABC Classics and is a vocal professor, lecturer and coach at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, a judge for the Sydney Eisteddfod and has given masterclasses in Australia and China. He is also completing his doctorate on Vocalism in Contemporary Opera through Sydney University, on a RTP Commonwealth Government Scholarship Award.

Australian mezzo-soprano Emily Edmonds was a Jette Parker Young Artist at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 2015-2017. 

Most recently, Emily recorded the role of L’Enfant for an acclaimed virtual production of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, produced by Vopera and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2020, she performed the UK premiere of Venables’ acclaimed Denis & Katya, and toured the piece throughout the UK with Music Theatre Wales. 

In November 2019, Emily performed the role of Dorabella in Classical Opera Company’s Così fan tutte, in London. In September 2019, Emily made her US debut, performing Philip Venables’ Denis & Katya for Opera Philadelphia. Earlier in 2019, she sang the title role of L’enfant in Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges at the Komische Oper Berlin. Emily also performed the role of Varvara in Richard Jones’ Olivier award-winning new production of Katya Kabanova, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. In December 2018, Emily appeared as Semira in Pinchgut Opera’s award-winning Australian Premiere of Hasse’s Artaserse. Pinchgut Live label has now released their CD recording of this performance. 

In the 2016/17 season, Emily performed the roles of Madrigal Singer (Manon Lescaut), Kate Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly), and Tebaldo (Don Carlo) for the Royal Opera. She also performed the role of Agathe/Dargelos in Glass’ Les Enfants Terribles for the Royal Ballet, at the Barbican. In 2016/17 she covered the roles of Dorabella (Così fan tutte), Magdalene (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg), and Emilia (Otello) for the Royal Opera. 

Her roles in the 2015/16 season included Aglaea/Atropos/Bacchus (Orpheus) at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, and Alms Sister (Suor Angelica), Käthchen (Werther), for the Royal Opera. Emily was also one of the six cast members in the world premiere of Philip Venables’ critically acclaimed new opera 4.48 Psychosis at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Emily holds a First Class Honours degree in Vocal Performance from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. She was the Dame Nellie Melba Scholar and Patrick & Vivian Gordon awardee for the Melba Opera Trust. In 2015, Emily was awarded an Australia Council for the Arts ArtStart grant, in support of her vocal and language development abroad. She is an awardee of the Australian Music Foundation and the Tait Memorial Trust. Emily is also a recipient of the Dame Heather Begg Memorial Award. 

Emily’s theatrical training background is extensive and has involved productions, national touring, and comprehensive acting study with the Australian Theatre for Young People, and the Fresh Ink project. Pursuing her passion for theatre-making, she was Staff Director on the revival of Richard Jones’ Der Rosenkavalier in the 2018 Glyndebourne Festival season. 

In July 2015 Emily performed the role of Asteria in Pinchgut Opera’s production of Vivaldi’s Bajazet. In 2014 she sang Elgar’s Sea Pictures with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, as part of the Discovery Series. She also sang the role of Dritte Magd for the SSO’s concert performance of Strauss’s Elektra. In the 2014 Sydney Festival she performed in the Australian premiere of George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill for Sydney Chamber Opera. She also performed the role of Kate Julian in Britten’s Owen Wingrave, for Sydney Chamber Opera.

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We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we work and perform. We honour their elders both past and present, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

© 2020 Sydney Chamber Opera | Site designed & built by Anderson Chang

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The Opera stripped bare

THE OPERA
STRIPPED BARE

Imara Savage on directing Fly Away Peter
By Annarosa Berman

It’s no secret that Sydney Chamber Opera, whose production of Elliott Gyger and Pierce Wilcox’s Fly Away Peter premieres at Carriageworks this May, operates on a tight budget. But this does not faze director Imara Savage:  “In stripping a piece to its essentials, you work out what it’s really about; you couldn’t at the last minute decide that you wanted an elephant on stage,” she says. “With the right creative team, you can realise a piece without doing a B-grade version of what you’d imagined.”

With or without elephants, Savage is clear about the attraction of opera. “It’s never set in a kitchen; opera doesn’t live in the world of naturalism,” she says, with a laugh. “Fly Away Peter is an epic piece with much that is ephemeral and unknown about it, and I love the challenge of that.”

For emerging directors, there are very few opportunities to direct opera in Sydney. Savage, who has directed Britten’s Owen Wingrave and Philip Glass’ In the Penal Colony for SCO, considers herself lucky to be able to work for the company

“SCO does innovative, exciting and super challenging work, musically and in terms of staging,” she says. As a director she learns from all the productions she directs, but she’s learned the most from working for SCO. “They pick such hard pieces! “ she says, laughing again. “In the Penal Colony and Owen Wingrave had not been staged in Australia for a reason; they’re really hard pieces to do. You look at a  project and you think, this is really challenging. But this company doesn’t seem to think like that; they think, ‘Wow! This is really difficult! We’ll do it!’”

In Fly Away Peter, not having a libretto or the full orchestration of the music to use in preparation was Savage’s biggest challenge. Usually, her process would involve taking the score, getting a recording of it and listening to it many times, so that when she walks into the rehearsal room she knows the opera backwards.

“This has been a different process. We received the opera in segments. I put my faith in [conductor] Jack [Symonds], who played each part for me and talked me through the instrumentation.” SCO has a history of staging new opera, so although Savage had not worked in this way before, the company had. “They took me through a process that they’d already experienced. “

Conceptualising the piece was, once again, a new experience. “We were creating the directorial concept before we had all the music, in conjunction with Elliott Gyger, the composer,” Savage says. “We knew what the shape of the piece would be, but usually you pick away at the music and libretto in great detail to find out what the concept is going to be.”

Savage had to rely on the novel instead.  “What struck me about it were the landscapes: the piece starts in a bird sanctuary in Queensland and ends in the trenches in Europe. [Designer] Elizabeth Gadsby and I had to decide how to create a space that would encompass the transformation of landscape from a place of sanctuary to a place of death.”

In picking a designer, Savage was guided by her instinct that the opera needed an elemental set that was almost like an installation. “Elizabeth comes from an installation background.  She had the right sensibility and aesthetic for this piece. “

David Malouf encouraged the Fly Away Peter creative team to find an expression of the novel’s themes suited to the new medium. One of the things they decided to do was not to be literal about their depiction of the horrors of war. Savage says: “The novel’s images have been condensed so that you are hit with them almost one after the other, in a fractured and fragmented kind of way. The opera is like an expressionistic nightmare rather than like a TV drama.”

Carriageworks offers SCO a small, intimate and atmospheric space with an acoustic suited to chamber music, even though it’s a box with no wings and none of the big theatre conventions.

Savage is unfazed. “You play to its strengths,” she says.

Breaking Glass, Photo by Dan Boud

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Lorem Ipsum,Carriageworks. Photo by Photographer

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We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we work and perform. We honour their elders both past and present, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

© 2020 Sydney Chamber Opera | Site designed & built by Anderson Chang

Categories
Current Productions

Book In Song

BOOK
IN SONG

Presented by Phoenix Central Park

June 12, 5:30pm

Jane Sheldon

June 12, 7:30pm

Anna Fraser

June 19, 5:30pm

Emily Edmonds

June 19, 7:30pm

Simon Lobelson

July 10, 5:30pm
(postponed from June 26)

Simon Lobelson

July 10, 7:30pm
(postponed from June 26)

Emily Edmonds

July 17, 5:30pm
(postponed from July 3)

Anna Fraser

July 17, 7:30pm
(postponed from July 3)

Jane Sheldon

Date & TIME

Sat June 12
5:30PM —  Jane Sheldon
7:30PM — Anna Fraser

Sat June 19
5:30PM — Emily Edmonds
7:30PM — Simon Lobelson

Postponed Performances:

Sat June 26 July 10
5:30PM — Simon Lobelson
7:30PM — Emily Edmonds

Sat July 3 July 17
5:30PM — Anna Fraser
7:30PM — Jane Sheldon

VENUE

‘The Church’
9 Mitchell Rd. Alexandria

duration
4x 60 minute long programs, each
presented twice
TICKET prices

Keep in touch

General Inquiries ​

Newsletter Sign-up

General Information

We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we work and perform. We honour their elders both past and present, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

© 2020 Sydney Chamber Opera | Site designed & built by Anderson Chang

Categories
Blog Posts

Florescence, Decay and the Body

Florescence, Decay
& The Body

By Jane Sheldon

One of the primary images woven into this month-long song installation is that of the garden, the setting for both Schoenberg’s Das Buch der hängenden Gärten (The Book of the Hanging Gardens), sung by Anna Fraser, and Fauré’s La Chanson d’Ève (The Song of Eve), sung by me. These cycles are old by SCO standards; both were premiered in 1910 (although fragments of the Fauré had been presented earlier.) Both are performed too rarely. Some of the works in our series address us very much from the perspective of the intellect, but in the Fauré and the Schoenberg the body is where everything registers.

In both cycles the garden is intoxicating, all-consuming, but the dispositions of each protagonist couldn’t be more different: Eve awakens in Eden, embarking on a day of sublime discovery, while Schoenberg’s protagonist stumbles through a garden in decay, lovesick and reeling. Both works are sung in the present in a sense; we’re witness to something unfolding in real time for a single psychology. In the Schoenberg we’re in a kind of Babylon, perhaps, and in the Fauré we’re in Eden, but where we really are is in the sensorium of each protagonist. La Chanson d’Ève sets poems by Charles van Lerberghe and it is worth noting how unusual they are. If you hadn’t heard of Adam and wanted a fully-furnished picture of Judeo-Christian cosmology, this cycle is not going to help you; refreshingly, Adam never shows. We only ever hear from Eve, apparently waking in the garden alone, discovering it alone. But it’s not only the care taken over the singularity of Eve’s experience that is special here. It’s also that the experience is one of the garden making itself known to Eve’s body. As in song five, L’aube blanche:

A ray of light touches

The pale flower of my blue eyes;

A flame awakens my mouth,

A breeze awakens my hair.

The music itself is revealed like a garden coming into being, unfolding from incredibly simple elements, single pitches emerging one by one, until we are suddenly aware that we are deep in rich harmony, the garden in full bloom. Eve’s body is foregrounded all the while. We know as early as the third song, Roses ardentes, that Eve has arrived at an ecstatic, sublime conflation of her self with the garden. By song seven, the eroticism of this merging is clear:

Are you awake, my fragrant sun,

Scent of blonde bees,

Do you float across the world,

My sweet scent of honey?

At night, when my steps

Prowl in the silence,

Do you, who perfume my lilacs,

And my vivid roses, proclaim me?

Am I like a bunch of fruit

Hidden in the foliage,

That nothing reveals

But whose fragrance is felt at night?

Does he know, at this hour,

That I am loosening my tresses

And that they are breathing?

Does he sense it on earth?

Does he sense that I reach out my arms,

And that my voice – which he cannot hear –

Is fragrant

With lilies from my valleys?

The ultimate disintegration of self into garden comes at song ten, O mort, poussières d’étoiles, an expression of desire for ecstatic self-annihilation:

…It is into you I want to be absorbed,

To be extinguished and dissolved,

Death, to which my soul aspires!

Come, break me like a flower of foam,

A flower of sun in the crest

Of the waves,

And as if from a golden amphora,

A wine of heavenly fragrance,

Pour my soul

Into your abyss, that it might perfume

The dark earth and the breath of the dead.

In contrast to the sublime ecstasy of the Fauré, Schoenberg’s Das Buch der hängenden Gärten is a dark and beautiful bruise, charting the torments of love in decay, and written at a time of great turmoil in Schoenberg’s marriage. The work was Schoenberg’s first entirely atonal work and it is heady and lush, quite gorgeously sickening at moments; for the protagonist it is a thoroughly arousing sort of pain. I’m going to quote repeatedly from Allen Shawn’s biography, Arnold Schoenberg’s Journey, because it’s a truly wonderful book, terrible title notwithstanding. To borrow a map from Shawn, the songs travel through “vague anticipation (1, 2) and longing (3,4,5) to obsession (6,7,8), frustration (9), reverie (10), brief consummation (11), and finally doomed resignation (12, 13, 14, 15).”

From the final song:

The pond’s glass fades and breaks

And I stumble lost in the rotting grass.

Palms prickle with their spiky fingers.

Crumbling leaves in a sibilant mass

Are driven by invisible hands

Around this Eden’s sallow walls…

What is foregrounded for the most part is not the personage of the beloved, not their features or their actions; rather, what is rendered in extremely fine detail is the slowly rotting garden and its contents, observed by the singer staggering lovesick through meadows of flowers. Through the metaphor of the garden, what is most salient to us is the way that heartbreak tastes, smells, and feels, the oppressive dis-ease of it.

Schoenberg took these fifteen poems from a much larger work by Stefan George, which charts a more explicit storyline, but the composer’s selections leave us only the emotional dimension. Structurally speaking, Stefan George’s poetry is full of classical order, but Schoenberg’s music pays no heed to whatever structural constraints might be found in the poems, somehow concealing the rigidity of meter to reveal the emotional dimension of the poem with greater clarity. On this, Shawn quotes H. H. Stuckenschmidt, another Schoenberg biographer: “George’s strict meters are as it were unmasked by Schoenberg… Schoenberg’s sounds and rhythms shine behind this order and disclose the spiritual organism which lies behind it.”

George’s poems, with their themes of exquisite disorientation, served to support some of Schoenberg’s most radical musical gestures. It is George who lends text to Schoenberg’s second string quartet, in which he announces that he is, before our very ears, going to gently and decisively snip the tether from the spacecraft to send us floating off into free atonality, seeding a musical language for Das Buch der hängenden Gärten and beyond.

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We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we work and perform. We honour their elders both past and present, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

© 2020 Sydney Chamber Opera | Site designed & built by Anderson Chang