Griffith’s opera production hits a high note













This is opera as you’ve never seen it before – a blockbuster double bill  featuring fantastical sets and costumes, UV projections, puppets and kites.

The Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University is confounding expectations with a fresh take on two operas by superstar French composers Debussy and Ravel.

Queensland Conservatorium Director Professor Scott Harrison said the production would enthrall audiences.

“We have assembled an amazing team,” he said.

“It looks and sounds fantastic – this production really demonstrates the calibre of teaching and learning happening at the Queensland Conservatorium.”

Working with industry professionals

The production will be helmed by Australian-born, UK-based director Stephen Barlow.

Stephen Barlow
Stephen has directed opera and theatre for companies including the Royal Opera House; Metropolitan Opera; Glyndebourne and the San Francisco Opera.
Mr Barlow said he had enjoyed working with opera students at the Conservatorium.
“You’re getting a chance to work with the professionals of tomorrow,” he said.
“I love their energy and excitement – it reminds you of why you got into this business.”
“We’re throwing everything at this production – it’s going to feel very different to a traditional opera.”

Rising to the challenge

Queensland Conservatorium Head of Opera, Associate Professor Nicholas Cleobury, will conduct both operas.

He said the students had risen to the challenge.

“There are so many elements in an opera, from lighting to language, stagecraft, costumes and make up – there is every discipline under the sun to master,” he said.

“The students have done a tremendous job.”

A star is born

Young opera diva Xenia Puskarz Thomas will headline Ravel’s The Boy and the Magic.
The young singer is now in her third year at the Con, and will play the title role in the opera – a fantasy about a badly behaved child whose belongings come to life to teach him some important lessons.
“It is my first lead role at the Conservatorium, which is really exciting,” she said.
“I am on stage the whole time, which tests your stamina, but it is a real ensemble piece and everyone has to bring their best.
“As a younger student, I was in the chorus and would watch the older students and see everything that went into creating a role and leading a show.”

The role of a lifetime

For tenor Iain Henderson and soprano Naomi Bakker it will be their final swansong at the Con before graduating.
They play mother and son in a sumptuous production of Debussy’s one act opera, The Prodigal Son.
Iain is also playing a dual role in The Boy and the Magic.
“I’m the only performer in both operas, so it’s been a pretty busy rehearsal period!”
My role in The Prodigal Son is very intense, and there are only three singing roles in the opera, so you really have to hold your own and dig deep into the character,” he said.
“I am also playing a dual role in The Boy and the Magic – my character is eccentric and totally over the top, so it’s a lot of fun.”
The talented tenor says the two operas are linked by universal themes.
“They are very different operas, so the audience will have two very different experiences on either side of the interval.
“But both of these works have the mother-son relationship at their heart, so it’s something everyone can identify with.”
The roles are demanding, and the singer is getting prepared for opening night this week.
“Your body is your instrument, so you have to take care of yourself in the lead up to a show like this.
“I don’t drink coffee or alcohol in the months leading up to a show, and both of these roles are quite active, so I’ve had to make sure I’m physically fit.
“I’ve also had to learn to sing in French  for this role.
“Opera is the most inclusive art form – you are acting, singing, dancing – we have to be triple threats!”
Iain is heading over to the UK next month to pursue further studies, after winning a scholarship to do his Masters at the Royal Northern College of Music – flying out days after the show finishes.

A massive leap

Naomi Bakker said her role in The Prodigal Son is the perfect way to cap off her studies.
“My character does the majority of the singing in this show, and it is a really challenging role vocally and dramatically – it’s been a massive leap for me,” she said.
“It is my last public performance here at the Con, which is both scary and exciting.”
The young singer will perform with the Brisbane City Opera after graduating. She is a founding member of the fledgling company, which is putting on its first fully staged opera later this year.
“I love opera and I always dreamed of being a classical singer.
“I tried jazz, pop and musical theatre, but I’ve always had a connection to classical repertoire.
“I love the dramatic side of opera, it takes everything to the extreme.”
The opera double bill is playing at the Conservatorium Theatre South Bank from 1-5 September.