Pandemic opera production is one for the history books

The Queensland Conservatorium is putting on Australia’s first opera production since pandemic restrictions took effect, working within strict COVID safe guidelines to ensure the show goes on.

Singers have been rehearsing with gloves and masks on, the orchestra has been moved out of the pit and onto the stage to allow for social distancing and audience numbers will be limited.

This year’s mainstage opera production is Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict, inspired by Shakespeare’s beloved comedy, Much Ado About Nothing.

‘One for the history books’

Acting Queensland Conservatorium Director Professor Gemma Carey said the production had been scaled back in response to the pandemic and was operating within the University’s COVID Safe Plan and the COVID Safe Industry Plan for Live Performance in Queensland.

Professor Gemma Carey

“Our first concern is the safety of our staff, students and audiences, and this year’s production is taking place under approved COVID Safe Plans,” she said.

“It is a tribute to the herculean efforts of our cast, creatives and technical staff that we have been able to mount a semi-staged opera production during these challenging times.

“We have had to make significant changes to the production, but we are thrilled that we’ve been able to provide this invaluable training opportunity for our singers and musicians.

“Our annual opera production is always a highlight of our performance season, and this year’s show will be one for the history books.”

Bringing music lovers together again

Professor Johannes Fritzsch

Professor of Opera and Orchestral Studies Maestro Johannes Fritzsch will conduct, and said he was thrilled to welcome back audiences to the Conservatorium Theatre.

“The students have worked so hard to bring this show to life and they have risen to every challenge we have thrown at them,” he said.

“Because of COVID, we had to completely change the concept, and making music while social distancing is definitely a challenge.

“But our audiences are in for a treat. People have been starved of live music for so long. To sit with a group of strangers in a concert hall and experience this sublime music is such a unique way of being connected.”

A showcase for Australia’s best young singers

State Opera South Australia Artistic Director Stuart Maunder is directing the show – bringing more than 40 years of industry experience to the production.

Mr Maunder said he found it rewarding to work with emerging artists.

Opera director Stuart Maunder

“It’s been an unspeakable thrill getting back into the rehearsal room,” he said.

“The Queensland Conservatorium is renowned for its vocal program and it turns out the best young singers in the country.

“There is a raw energy about these musicians – they are eager to learn and have a try anything attitude.

“It’s about drawing the best out of them. To work with them at the beginning of their journey is thrilling and humbling.”

‘Everyone is so pleased to be here, doing what we love’

Mezzo soprano Sarah Winn and tenor Phillip Costovski are taking on the title roles – their last performances at the Queensland Conservatorium before taking up postgraduate studies in the UK later this year.

Opera student Sarah Winn

“This whole year everything has been up in the air, so it’s wonderful we’re getting to do the show,” Sarah said.

“The Con is so focused on giving students performance experience, and we are so lucky to have a world-class theatre and creative team.

“It feels like there is a real attitude of gratitude from everyone involved – everyone is just so pleased to be here doing what we love.

“I came from South Africa to study music at the Queensland Conservatorium – if you want to study classical voice, you want to study here.”

An unforgettable experience

Opera student Phillip Costovski

Tenor Phillip Costovski is taking on the lead role of Benedict and said the experience had been unforgettable.

“Rehearsing in gloves and masks and keeping our distance from each other is definitely difficult, but we’re still getting the full experience, and I guess if you can adapt to this, you can handle anything,” he said.

“In these strange times, we’re aware of just how lucky we are.

“I’ve had a blast at the Con, and these productions are always the highlight of every year – I feel like I’m ending on a high note.”

Béatrice et Bénédictwill be performed at the Conservatorium Theatre at South Bank on 10 and 12 September.