From pork chops to leading lady: First Nations star to sing with iconic Handa Opera

Brisbane soprano Nina Korbe works in a butcher shop to make ends meet but is about to hit the big time in Opera Australia’s iconic Handa Opera. The really big time.

Feb 14, 2024, updated Feb 14, 2024
Brisbane soprano Nina Korbe has won the role of her life, starring as Maria in Opera Australia's Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour presentation of West Side Story. Photo: Daniel Boud

Brisbane soprano Nina Korbe has won the role of her life, starring as Maria in Opera Australia's Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour presentation of West Side Story. Photo: Daniel Boud

Opera Australia has chosen the award-winning Brisbane First Nations soprano as its star for West Side Story – the next iconic Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, which opens on March 22.

This annual event is huge in the world of opera and entertainment more broadly. Korbe, a soprano who usually graces the stage for opera and classical music performances, is making her professional theatrical debut as Maria in the classic musical by Leonard Bernstein.

This means the 25-year-old will have to ditch her part-time job at a butcher shop in Brisbane’s western suburbs, temporarily at least, while she struts the stage in Sydney.

“I still work at the butcher shop part-time and now we have people coming in and asking, ‘are you the opera singer?’” Korbe says.

“Working there is grounding. It keeps me level-headed in all the ups and downs of the (music) industry.”

Korbe a proud Koa, Kuku Yalanji, Wakka Wakka woman, received her Bachelor of Music Performance with distinction from Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University, and was awarded the Griffith University Academic Excellence Award.

In 2020, Korbe was awarded the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music International Postgraduate Scholarship to undertake her Master of Arts studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London, graduating with distinction in 2022.

She performs with Opera Queensland and other companies and is, among other achievements, artist-in-residence with Queensland Youth Orchestras.

Korbe is one of three Queensland Conservatorium graduates headlining in West Side Story. As well as Billy Bourchier playing Tony, fellow graduate Kimberley Hodgson is playing Anita. For Korbe, playing the lead role of Maria is nothing short of mind-blowing.

“It is the opportunity of a lifetime,” she says. “I’m so honoured and excited. It doesn’t get much better than this, to be making my professional debut with Opera Australia.”

Korbe heads to Sydney to begin rehearsals on February 25 and won’t be home until later in April. She will be missed by her mum Kym and sister, Zoe, 19, who she lives with in Brisbane.

“They are so excited for me,” Korbe says. “They have been my biggest supporters and they are just about as excited as I am.”

Korbe flew to Sydney to audition and then to Melbourne where another audition round was held. She sang I Feel Pretty and a couple of other show numbers. Being cast as the lead in Bernstein’s classic musical is perfect.

“It’s a musical I grew up with,” Korbe says, “I sang I Feel Pretty for an eisteddfod when I was at high school in Toowoomba. Now with the movie Maestro there’s a resurgence of interest in Leonard Bernstein.

“But it’s a long time since I performed in a musical. The last time was in Annie at high school.”

She says her voice blends beautifully with Billy Bourchier, who was a couple of years ahead of her at the Queensland Conservatorium.

Opera Australia’s artistic director Jo Davies says she is “excited to have these fabulous Australian talents lead this production”.

“Audiences are going to be thrilled by their talent and energy on stage,” she says. “We want to be an opera company for, and reflective of, 21st century Australia.

“This production of West Side Story premiered in 2019 to rapturous acclaim and remains the most successful of all Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour productions.

“Featuring nightly fireworks and a live orchestra, and performed on Australia’s largest outdoor stage with sweeping city and harbour views, Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour has become a quintessential Sydney cultural experience.”

And Nina Korbe will be lapping it up.  But she’s not chucking in her job at the butcher shop. Not yet.

Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour presents West Side Story, Fleet Steps, Mrs Macquaries Point, Sydney, March 22 to April 21.

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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