There are more opera companies in Australia than many people might realise, and certainly more than came within the purview of the 2016 National Opera Review. That report confined itself to analysing the situation of the four major companies – Opera Australia, Opera Queensland, West Australian Opera and State Opera of South Australia. However, there are upwards of three times as many independent and smaller companies around the country that are similarly engaged in the art form.
Numbering around 15, they range considerably in size, from the nationally renowned period-instrument Pinchgut Opera, to medium sized companies such as Melbourne Opera which are capable of mounting mainstage productions, though to smaller companies that specialise in chamber-style productions (such as Sydney Chamber Opera and Adelaide’s Co-Opera) or contemporary works (Melbourne’s Chamber Made).
Their collective voice was represented in a landmark opera Forum convened this month in Sydney by Opera Conference. This is the umbrella entity that allows the four aforementioned major companies to mount co-productions. Also present at the forum was Victorian Opera, for although it was elevated to Major Performing Arts (MPA) status as a result of the National Opera Review’s recommendations, it is yet to become an Opera Conference partner: funding aspects still need working through before than can happen.
The purpose of the Forum was for these companies to meet for the first time and explore how a shared vision about their future might emerge.
“The Forum was pronounced a success, which is great for all of us,” says Vernon Winley, who is Opera Conference Secretary at Opera Australia.
“There has been a view that the smaller opera companies in Australia were not having a voice. They wanted to say more and have an input into the ecology of opera as an art form in Australia. We as the Opera Conference are responding to that and seeing if we can put something in place and hear their voice.”
Winley says all the participating companies welcomed the Forum as “a great initiative” and have decided to continue working together. “The resolve is to meet at least once a year, begin a Facebook page, and look at collaborating in various ways. To take one example, a number of smaller companies in Melbourne already do joint auditions of new singers. The companies still go off and do their own things, but running the audition process together makes it more efficient.”
This looks to be important initiative that will advance the wider opera landscape in Australia. Performers, producers and audiences alike stand to gain from an opera sector that is vital and healthy across its full spectrum. We plan to keep abreast of developments.