The glamour of Opera Australia

This one
Costume worn by Joan Carden as Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro, Opera Australia, 2000 Gift of Opera Australia, 2013 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

The company was formed by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust in 1956 and was initially named the Australian Opera Company. Its first performance was The Marriage of Figaro in Adelaide’s Theatre Royal on 21 July 1956. The following year the company was re-named the  Elizabethan Trust Opera Company. In 1970 the company became an independent entity and took the name The Australian Opera. The opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973 and the Arts Centre’s State Theatre in 1984, gave the company permanent performance venues in Sydney and Melbourne.

From the mid-1970s to 1990, the involvement of Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge greatly increased the profile of the company and expanded its repertoire. An amalgamation of The Australian Opera and the Victoria State Opera in 1996 resulted in the current structure and title of Opera Australia. Today our national opera company is one of the busiest in the world, giving hundreds of performances each year for the enjoyment of the Australian public.

Operas regularly staged by Opera Australia over the last five decades include Puccini’s Tosca, Verdi’s La traviata and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. John Copley directed enduring productions of each, and his Tosca of 1981 continues to be staged by the company today.

In 1974 the company staged its first commissioned Australian operas: Larry Sitsky’s Lenz, Felix Werder’s The Affair and Peter Sculthorpe’s Rites of Passage. After the unsuccessful Australian rock opera Hero in 1976, however, it was almost a decade before the company took on another local work. Brian Howard’s Metamorphosis, which had been first presented by the Victoria State Opera (VSO), was staged in 1985. The highly acclaimed opera Voss premiered the next year. Based on Patrick White’s novel, this was composed by Richard Meale with libretto by David Malouf. Other Australian works followed with Howard’sWhitsunday (1988), Meale’s Mer de Glace (1991), Sitsky’s The Golem (1993) and Alan John’s The Eighth Wonder (1995).

Operettas and musicals are a popular part of Opera Australia’s repertoire. English operettas by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan were first staged by the company in a special national tour in 1969. Since then productions including Iolanthe, HMS Pinafore, The Gondoliers, Patience and particularlyThe Mikado, have been enduring favourites. For many years, Dennis Olsen starred in character roles of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. More recently, guest performers including Jonathan Biggins, Judi Connelli, Reg Livermore and Colette Mann, have also delighted audiences in character roles.

Collection Holdings

Designs by Anne Fraser, Barrie Kosky, Frank Hinder and Kenneth Rowell. Programmes, photographs and costumes.

Published by

Performing Arts Collection

Arts Centre Melbourne's Performing Arts Collection is the national leader among specialist performing arts collections in Australia. Established in 1975, it is formally recognised as a State collection and encompasses the history of circus, dance, music, opera and theatre. The Collection features over 640,000 items including costumes, designs, photographs, set models, puppets, props, posters, programs and archives.

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