The sound of magpies warbling at dawn is a sound that's familiar to many Australians. But did you know that according to the Wadawurrung people, the magpie is actually responsible for the sunrise?
Audiences around Australia can discover a traditional Wadawurrung story imagined as an all-ages opera in Parrwang Lifts the Sky. Written and composed by acclaimed soprano Deborah Cheetham (Yorta Yorta), Parrwang Lifts the Sky is based on a traditional Wadawurrung tale about a magpie – Parrwang – who hatches a plan with his new human friends Tjatjarrang (Big Sister) and Koki (Brother) to raise the sky from the ground and lift the world out of darkness.
Cheetham says, "Parrwang Lifts the Sky is a simple, yet profound story which goes to the
heart of our need to understand and respect the natural world in which we live. It is a privilege to share the gift of this beautiful Wadawurrung story through the powerful medium of opera and to once again have the opportunity to connect audiences with the longest continuing culture in the world."
The production was commissioned by Victorian Opera and is presented in association with First Nations not-for-profit Short Black Opera. Parrwang Lifts the Sky also features set and costume designs created in partnership with Wadawurrung artists Deanne Gilson and Billy O'Toole.
The role of Parrwang is filled by Rebecca Rashleigh while Jess Hitchcock has been cast as Tjatjarrang and Michael Petruccelli as Koki. Cheetham herself also stars as Parrwang's cousin from Yorta Yorta country, with Kiran Rajasingam and Shauntai Batzke filling the roles of two crows called Mr and Mrs Waa. The role of Bunjil, the eagle Kulin nation creator deity, is performed by Don Christopher.
Parrwang Lifts the Sky is sung in English and Wadawurrung and is available to view on-demand for six months from June 19 (following the unfortunate cancellation of its in-person season due to Melbourne's fourth lockdown).