Singing under the stars: Opera heads to Outback with new festival

Opera Queensland will launch its inaugural festival Festival of the Outback Orchestra on 19 May, with illuminating outdoor performances in country towns from Longreach to Windorah in an effort to increase accessibility for opera fans around the state.

May 13, 2021, updated May 13, 2021
Festival of the Outback Opera begins May 19 (Image: Alan Mathieson)

Festival of the Outback Opera begins May 19 (Image: Alan Mathieson)

As part of an eight-day festival of opera, Dark Sky Serenade and Singing in the Night will be striking outdoor operatic concerts performed by Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Eva Kong, Xenia Puskarz Thomas, Kang Wang and Jason Barry-Smith.

The festival will wind its way from Winton to Longreach, Barcaldine, Blackall and Windorah, kicking off in Winton on May 19 with the participatory event Sing Sing Sing and a performance of the opera-country blend Are You Lonesome Tonight on May 20, accompanied by Camerata, Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra.

Eva Kong, a Sydney-based Soprano and Helpmann Award nominee, is thrilled to be performing the picturesque outdoor events.

“I don’t think Mozart or Rossini or Puccini would ever have imagined their music would be played in Outback Australia,” Kong said.

“It has such wonderful scenery with grand natural landscapes, I’m quite sure they would have loved to join us!”

Dark Sky Serenade will be performed at dusk in Winton’s Australian Age of Dinosaurs Parkland, incorporating music by Mozart, Bizet, Rossini and Rogers and Hammerstein as the sun sets and the Winton night sky is on full display.

Singing in the Night will be performed in front of a hundred-year-old plane hangar at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach on May 22. A history of opera will be performed, including classic pieces by Handel, Verdi, and Puccini and musical numbers from South Pacific, Fiddler on the Roof and My Fair Lady.

“All the pieces in the repertoire that Conductor Vanessa Scammell, Camerata and Opera Queensland chose are beautiful,” said Kong.

“My favourites are “Soave sia il vento” from Cosi Fan Tutte and “So in love” from Kiss Me Kate. Such beautiful, subtle music with perfect harmony. I can’t wait to sing it.”

Kong said performing in such unique, non-traditional spaces will elevate the performances.

“There are added technical difficulties performing outdoors, but it can be more grand and when it’s night time with lovely people hearing beautiful music it is very romantic – it will be quite unforgettable.”

Kong said she was thrilled to be bringing opera to the outback, a world away from her upbringing in Seoul, South Korea.

“I grew up as a city girl in Seoul, I had no idea about the Australian countryside nor agriculture.

“Two years ago I did a regional tour of Madam Butterfly. That tour really opened my eyes to the Outback which made me realise how keen people are for good live music, and how beautiful this country is. Most importantly we get to connect on stage with these audiences through the music,” said Kong.

The program has been curated by acclaimed conductor Vanessa Scammel alongside Camerata’s Artistic Director, Brendan Joyce.

Opera Queensland Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Patrick Nolan, said the performances coincide with Opera Queensland’s 40th anniversary.

“Anyone who can make it to the outback for the festival is in for the experience of a lifetime,” Nolan said.

“The Festival of Outback Opera is a wonderful opportunity to show Queensland that opera as an art form is not confined to theatre stages in capital cities.”

“The beauty of opera is its ability to connect with anyone who is excited by great stories and powerful music.

“Our vision is to grow a community that is connected by the transformative power of opera, and we look forward to doing this during the festival when we run community workshops, perform pop-up performances and debut new work developed in collaboration with emerging artists.”

The Festival of Outback Opera is funded under the Year of Outback Tourism Events Program, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk encouraged Queenslanders to go rural for this unique Outback experience.

“The Queensland Government is delighted to support Opera Queensland to deliver the Festival of Outback Opera and help bring more visitors to western Queensland to enjoy everything that the region has to offer,” the Premier said.

The Festival of the Outback Opera runs from 19 May to 27 May. For more information and tickets, visit Opera Queensland’s website. 

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