Opera Carnivale

Young performers pushing the boundaries between opera and cabaret

24 April 2018
Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's Mahagonny Songspiel in Wollongong
Students from the University of Sydney Conservatorium of Music have joined forces with their Wollongong peers to create an operatic spectacular.

Young musicians from Sydney and Wollongong have been brought together to create a collaborative extravaganza as part of the Spiegeltent Wollongong 2018 season.

Dr Narelle Yeo, Senior Lecturer in Voice and Stagecraft at the University of Sydney Conservatorium of Music and Rachel Bate, Head of Voice at Wollongong Conservatorium of Music, head up Opera Carnivale, a production company they started together to provide collaborative performance opportunities for students from both institutions. This year the duo and over 60 students are taking on Mahagonny Songspiel, an operatic satire composed by Kurt Weill and written by Bertolt Brecht.

The show is based around the fictional town of Mahagonny, a town forever changed when the mining boom hits and crowds descend to seek their fortune.  Timely political themes within the piece see leaders attacking truth and the media while citizens become increasingly disillusioned.

Written in 1927, director Dr Narelle Yeo’s cabaret-style interpretation of this show will come to life within the antique wood and red canvas of the Spiegeltent, which is home to Wollongong’s annual festival performance season.

Mahagonny Songspiel features Maestro Eduardo Diazmunoz leading an 11-piece orchestra playing popular, jazz-inspired tunes while the young cast push the boundaries between opera and cabaret on stage. Renowned soprano Rachel Bate will join the vocal line-up and the University of Sydney’s Dr Daniel Rojas will also feature on piano.

Cathy Wilcox, cartoonist for the Sydney Morning Herald, has provided images for the production and costumer Ester Karuso-Thum has created intricate masks and costumes for dancers and singers. Choreographer Olivia Ansell has worked with the dancers in the production, also providing mentoring to some of the younger performers. 

This performance is unique in that it is a collaboration of professionals and young emerging artists, creating rare mentoring opportunities for the younger artists.
Dr Narelle Yeo

The mentoring aspect of this production is also the basis for a research project by Dr Narelle Yeo and Associate Professor in Music Education, Jennifer Rowley.

“The performance is entirely multidisciplinary, engaging dancers, actors, singers and musicians from Wollongong and Sydney in this partnership between city and Conservatoria,” said Dr Narelle Yeo. 

Yeo and Rowley are working with the student performers to study how structured mentoring relationships develop while working on Mahagonny Songspiel, contributing to both professional experience and individual student development as a musician.

The project has been made possible with the support of a grant from the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music. Explaining the significance of Weill, Dr Yeo said, “he is one of relatively few composers comfortable composing across genres, with elements of his music evoking both jazz and pop.” She continued, “his work has been recorded by artists as diverse as The Doors, David Bowie, Frank Sinatra and Anne Sofie Von Otter”.

The Speigeltent Wollongong program is presented by Strut & Fret and Merrigong Theatre Company with the kind support of the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music.    

Opera Carnivale’s Mahagonny Songspiel is a one-night only performance taking place at 2pm on Sunday 29 April the Speigeltent Wollongong, located at Burelli Street Arts Precinct, Wollongong. 

The program is repeated for Sydney audiences at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music at 6:30pm on Tuesday 1 May. 

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