Sydney Opera House

Ten-minute Bohème raises awareness of opera

Ten-minute Bohème raises awareness of opera

In its quest to bring opera to more people, Opera Australia has embraced digital technology: the Company is active on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and its website is an ever expanding work-in-progress.

Yet in itself, use of digital technology will not convince a new generation of music lovers that opera – and indeed any classical music – is relevant to their lives. In the words of Nicole Canham, clarinettist and founding member of Polyartistry, a Melbourne-based arts company that aims to engage audiences by treating them as co-creators and communicators who enjoy using the latest technology: “If people who have not been to the opera in five or ten years, or ever, are going to make a date and buy a ticket, you have to create an awareness of opera first.”  

With this purpose in mind, Opera Australia and Polyartistry have been developing the PolyOpera project, which this winter brings Sydney communities brand-new, upbeat, 10-minute versions of La bohème, Lakme and Don Giovanni, to be produced and filmed throughout June.

In keeping with its focus on audience participation, PolyOpera’s treatment of all three operas offers Sydneysiders the opportunity to contribute words, ideas and sounds to help create each mini-version. The aim is to capture part of the mood of the works, rather than to tell the whole story in ten minutes. “We take an aria and do a treatment around it,” Canham says. Each opera will be recorded for broadcast on ABC Classic FM, and a video of each performance will be posted to YouTube.

La bohème is arguably the most popular work in the repertoire, and one to which young people can relate. “The Bohemians are living a wonderful life of freedom, but when Mimi dies they realize that their lifestyle has been deadly to someone they’ve loved,” Canham says. PolyOpera is asking the question: who are the Bohemians in Sydney in 2011? What are their lives really like?.

La bohème will be created and recorded during a performance event at CuriousWorks in Surry Hills, on Wednesday 8 June. Composer Drew Crawford has reworked melodic material from Mimi’s aria, and people are being asked to contribute to a bohemian installation which will form part of the performance event, based on the idea of what it means to be a contemporary Sydney bohemian. Taryn Fiebig is Mimi, and accompaniment is by a string quartet from the AOBO.

Lakme, a story of idealised love that goes wrong in a clash of cultures, has a strong emphasis on ritual, which will be the focus of PolyOpera’s treatment of this work. At the performance day at Parramatta Park on Saturday 18 June, audience members will be able to participate in ritual-like activities like making paper flowers and learning dance routines, with participants able to be part of the filming. Eight dancers from You Move, a Western Sydney dance collective, will participate. 

The Flower Duet will be the focal point, yet Delibes’ music will be overlayed with Indian classical music and contemporary Bollywood flavour. “The production opens with a layered, electronic Bollywood-influenced sound, performed by an ensemble of Indian and Western classical music instruments, which then dissolves into the Flower Duet, sung by Taryn Fiebig and Anna Yun.” The instrumental ensemble  includes Bobby Singh (tabla), Sarangan (sitar), and Canham (clarinet).

Don Giovanni was selected because of its evergreen subject matter of love, deception and revenge. “There’s an interesting connection between the musical battle between good and evil in Don G, and the structure of the hip hop battle or concert,” Canham says. PolyOpera’s version of the opera, entitled, The Don: Remixed, is based on the “Champagne Aria”, sung by Tom Hamilton, and explores the way in which hip hop rhymes and operatic recitative can be compared, and how they can learn from each other.

B-Boy dancing often features in hip hop performances, and to teach audience members some moves, PolyOpera is offering a workshop run by contemporary dancer and hip hop composer, Matt Cornell. Morganics, a well-known hip hop artist and beats composer, will be holding a beat boxing workshop as well. The performance event and workshops take place on Friday 17 June at Bowman Hall, next to the Blacktown Arts Centre.

Participants at the performance event will be shown how to use their Iphones to compose hip hop. “There are some great applications for hip hop composition,” Canham says.

The Don Giovanni performance event features a female MC, Rima aka Soul Beats, who performs a hip hop track based on Donna Elvira’s aria about being scorned. Other members of the performance team include OA music staff member Fiona McCabe, DJ Ability and graffiti artists.

The themes of these operas are as relevant today as they were when they were created, Canham says. “But one can’t simply say: Opera is relevant and people just don’t recognise it. The purpose of a project like this is to approach people and say, “These are some connections that we see between opera and the things that you’re interested in. What do you see when we present it to you like that?” We’re not telling people that opera is relevant. We’re providing a platform to show them, through a medium with which they identify.” 

To contribute ideas and images and to find out more about the performance events, visit the PolyOpera website