Victorian Opera on tour 2017

28 Nov 2017

What happens on tour stays on tour, right? Not this time, as we reflect back on our 2017 Regional Victorian Tour.

Cast and crew of The Snow Queen in Wodonga. Photo by John Russell

Tour time is always an exciting period for Victorian Opera as we delight in sharing our work, strengthening ties with communities across Victoria and seeing some familiar faces. But most of all, it’s about partaking in the excitement felt by the local communities when the opera rolls into town.

After weeks of careful planning, it was suddenly October and time to pack up the trucks and set off on our Regional Tour which would take us from Mildura to Bendigo, Sale to Wodonga. We travelled with two 3-tonne trucks containing all the sets, costumes, lighting and musical instruments required to stage a production that looks the same no matter whether it’s here in Melbourne or in a regional venue five hours away.

Packing the gear for the tour. Photo: Peter Darby

With a committed band of artists, orchestra members and production staff we would perform 11 shows in four regional centres. This year we were particularly lucky to have our Artistic Director Richard Mills on the tour and conducting every performance.

Our performances of Hansel and Gretel went down a treat with hordes of school children, many of them experiencing opera for the first time, while the Heroes and Villains concert showcased some of the greatest arias, duets and ensembles from the history of opera.

Kicking off with Hansel and Gretel in Mildura, one school was thrilled to have an exclusive performance getting up close and personal with singers Olivia Cranwell and Timothy Reynolds who came down into the auditorium after the show for a Q&A with the young students.

However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing in Mildura when one of our singers came down with a bout of food poisoning. But the show must go on and director Elizabeth Hill donned the proverbial pants to perform the role of The Angel and Child.

Stephen Marsh, Elizabeth Hill and Olivia Cranwell

After packed performances in Bendigo, the students in Sale knew what to expect as a few weeks earlier our Education Officer Deborah Vanderwerp and singer Carlos E. Bárcenas visited schools in the Sale region to conduct workshops, giving the children an introduction to opera and Hansel and Gretel. There were many shrieks when Carlos jumped out dressed as The Witch and amazement when he performed an aria. ‘How do you sing so loud?’ was one of the questions from the inquisitive students. 

Carlos E. Bárcenas and students. Photo: Deborah Vanderwerp

Along with being an entertaining evening of opera hits, Heroes and Villains provided the opportunity to work with community choirs.

We saw some familiar faces in Mildura having previously worked with their community choir and it was wonderful to see how much they had developed over the past year. For the concert, Nichols Point Primary School sung a gorgeous rendition of ‘Wild Colonial Boy’ while the Sunraysia Community Choir performed a medley conducted and accompanied by local musicians.

For their moment in the spotlight Bendigo Youth Choir performed ‘Pemulwuy’, written by Paul Jarman, orchestrated by Richard Mills - based on an Indigenous Australian story. We were thrilled to have CEO of the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation Rodney Carter in the audience, who was elated with his first live opera experience.

The final performance of Heroes and Villains was in Sale, and it was a homecoming for Shakira Dugan and Nathan Lay who were welcomed back like celebrities to their home region and sung their hearts out.

Onto Wodonga for the world premiere of The Snow Queen where it was like finally seeing a jigsaw puzzle fall into place when the costumes, sets, lighting, singers and orchestra all came together. However, it was the enthusiasm of the community choirs, especially during their private viewing of the 3D scenography, which was the real highlight of our time in Wodonga.

Olivia Cranwell and the Young Voices Choir in The Snow Queen. Photo: John Russell

It can be long days and nights for our production crew who sometimes have a bump in, rehearsal and performance all on the same day. But it’s not all work and no play for the touring party. In Bendigo we found time to get out and enjoy the cultural riches of Bendigo with a visit to the Edith Head exhibition.

On evenings off, we could be found popping into the local pub for a group dinner or trivia night. And it’s not just musical scores and lighting plans in our touring party’s heads as this year we won a pub trivia night in Sale. We also have reports that a music staff member may have sneaked off to the Midnight Oil concert in Wodonga following the Friday night performance of The Snow Queen. Hey, what can we say, we’re an eclectic bunch!