Written in the 1940s by Kurt Weill, with influences from jazz and blues to Broadway, Street Scene was billed as the first ‘American Opera’.
Weill described it as “a simple story of everyday life in a big city, a story of love and passion and greed and death”.
Helmed by celebrated playwright and theatre director Michael Gow, Street Scene is the only opera running in Australia at present, with COVID restrictions and border closures scuttling productions around the country.
Honours student Lucy Stoddart moved from Adelaide to Brisbane to study classical voice at the Queensland Conservatorium and said she was thrilled to be involved in the groundbreaking production.
“It’s an incredible experience to work on a full-scale production like this with top industry professionals,” she said.
“We’re the only opera on in the country at the minute, which makes it even more special — and we’re putting on a real showstopper.”
Fellow opera student Sara Donnelly said the show’s blend of art forms and influences had challenged the young cast.
“It’s all very exciting and very new. There’s lots of dialogue and the music touches on everything from opera to jazz and blues and musical theatre,” she said.
“We have to be able to act, sing, dance.
“It’s putting all our skills to the test, but it’s great preparation for the different opportunities that might come our way after graduation.”
Final year opera student Tom Nicholson said landing the lead role in a production like Street Scene had given him the confidence to follow in the footsteps of alumni now performing with the world’s top opera companies.
“It is so inspiring to see other opera grads from the Con carving out that path — it definitely makes it seem more attainable,” he said.
“These are the people that I looked up to when I first came to the Conservatorium who were taking on lead roles in the annual productions.
“Now I can look at where they are now and see where I want to be after graduation.”
Director Michael Gow brings more than 40 years of industry experience to the production. He said it was rewarding to work with emerging artists.
“I love working with young people, I find them inspiring, especially times like this,” he said.
“I feed off their ambition and commitment.”
Mr Gow is a renowned playwright and director, overseeing productions for the country’s major theatre and opera companies.
“Opera is a particular delight — I like working with musicians, it’s a real team effort,” he said.
“Having a huge cast on stage and a full orchestra in the pit is a thrill.
“Opera should be as alive as any contemporary piece of theatre or rock music, it should excite people.
“Street Scene certainly stretches the students, because it’s an emotionally intense story and they have to tackle a real mix of musical styles.”
Professor of Opera and Orchestral Studies Maestro Johannes Fritzsch will conduct the show and said audiences were in for a treat.
“It is a fantastic piece of theatre and music,” he said.
“It’s very challenging for the orchestra and singers because we have to switch styles between numbers very quickly, but that’s what makes it so colourful and exciting.
“This show resonates because it’s full of very human stories — there are racial tensions, jealousy, love, tragedy — it’s got it all.”
Street Scene is on at the Conservatorium Theatre South Bank from 4 – 11 September.