Opera Queensland's first mainstage production of 2022 is the thrilling new work, 'The Sopranos’.
It's an examination of how women have been represented throughout the history of opera – spotlighting those bold and rebellious female figures and responding to questioning about the representation of women in the art form.
Australian poet and author Sarah Holland-Batt has written the piece alongside dramaturg Jane Sheldon. Laura Hansford is co-directing with Opera Queensland's Artistic Director Patrick Nolan.
“To bring the vision and story to life, we have cast some of Australia’s finest opera singers to play a broad range of roles, covering a repertoire that spans the baroque to verismo to the contemporary including works by female composers and Australian composers,” Patrick says.
'The Sopranos' will first confront the challenges and crises women have faced in opera, before switching gears and focusing on their strength and tenacity in responding to these challenges.
More than 90 artists and arts workers will bring this important production to life, including sopranos Lisa Harper-Brown, Leanne Kenneally, Sarah Crane and Eva Kong, baritone José Carbó and the Opera Queensland Chorus.
Here, we get some more information from Co-Director Laura Hansford ahead of the show.
Tell us a little bit about ’The Sopranos’ in general.
In short, 'The Sopranos' is a journey through the history of opera, it visits some of the most powerful moments seen on stage, curated from 19 different operas, with repertoire spanning almost 400 years and performed in five different languages. The catch is that this journey places the incredible stories of women centre stage. 'The Sopranos' threads together the stories of operatic heroines into a tapestry of vulnerability and strength, woven together with poetry and song.
What about the cast? What can you tell us about the talent involved in the show?
What has been the most incredible part of this process is how unprecedented it is to have so many leading females in the one room together. Most operas tend to have only a few female characters on stage, so creating one production that brings together ten of Australia’s best sopranos, Eva Kong, Sarah Crane, Lisa Harper-Brown and Tania Ferris just to name a few, is extremely exciting. It truly feels like creating an operatic super group, like if the Spice Girls were made up of Lucia, Carmen and Delila.
Why do you think a production like this is important?
At its core opera is about storytelling, I’ve always found that when at its best those stories and the music that carries them can help us to better understand the world around us. The plight and success of characters we see on stage work to shift our assumptions and present different perspectives. The stories presented in 'The Sopranos' offer a space to question the complex roles that women have played through the history of opera and I believe this is essential to the art form continuing to resonate with contemporary audiences.
The show takes place in two parts. What will each part cover?
Broadly we have looked at the first act as representing women in crisis and then travel through to a second act comprised of women in rebellion. It is interesting though that as we have explored these characters in the room and peeled back their layers that each scene is coloured by both these themes; vulnerability found among strength and hope found among despair.
What comments do you have regarding the representation of women in opera over the years?
It is no secret that woman in opera have long since pulled the short end of the stick, whether it is Tosca jumping off the Castel St Angelo, Lucia going mad at her own wedding or Dido burning herself alive, a tragic fate can seem inevitable. What I adore though is what lays underneath that, the power and resilience of the singers. Female artists who embody these characters every night on the stage, who walk out there know they won’t make it till the curtain falls, pouring emotion into song. 'The Sopranos' gets to interrogate that intersection between artists and character, to look at how as women, fictional or real we share a history that isn’t always beautiful but always contains hope.
And how will this be explored in ’The Sopranos’?
During 'The Sopranos' we begin to peel away at the layers of well-known characters, cracking through the hardened crust of lacquered fiction, painted on over hundreds of years of performance. The writing of Sarah Holland-Batt weaves together these stories seamlessly as we bear witness to moments of triumph and despair and invite the audiences to shift their engagement with our operatic heroines from sympathy to empathy.
As Director, what has been your main goal during the preparation of this show?
After watching our sopranos live a thousand lives on the stage and die a thousand deaths, it is easy I think, to slip into the habit of knowing them and forget to remember them. My challenge in directing this show has been to forget what I ‘know’ and instead to spend time getting to know these characters anew.
'The Sopranos' plays Queensland Performing Arts Centre 29 March-2 April.