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Victorian Opera has announced its 2021 season, featuring rock musicals and giant puppets

A total of ten productions are planned, including four world first operas from local composers

Nicola Dowse
Written by
Nicola Dowse

From postponed rock musicals to contemporary Australian classics, the Victorian Opera has announced a 2021 season that relaunches the company's productions with aplomb. A total of ten productions are scheduled for 2021, which has been adapted significantly to address the still uncertain atmosphere surrounding the theatre and live performance industries. 

Artistic director Richard Mills says: “Victorian Opera’s Season 2021 marks a year of rebirth and rediscovery. After the dark days of 2020, our company is a little like an emerging butterfly: ready to fly at the end of a sombre time tunnel, yet, in some senses, wary of the unforeseen challenges."

The fresh season kicks off with an all-time favourite, The Sleeping Beauty (Feb 20, 23, 25, 26). Italian composer Ottorino Respighi wrote the opera in 1921 following World War I and the Spanish Flu. As originally intended, Victorian Opera will stage the performance with the assistance of puppets (thought these will be larger-than-life puppets, not the marionettes from Respighi's time). 

Autumn productions begin with the double bill of Echo and Narcissus/Cassandra (Mar 17, 19, 20). The mythical stories were commissioned as part of the company's response to social distancing measures and restrictions, with the production available to watch in person (at Arts Centre Melbourne's Playhouse theatre) while also being simultaneously streamed online. 

Part of Victorian Opera's response to the new normal is to engage with larger venues; this includes the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, which will host The Pearl Fishers (Apr 23). Georges Bizet's opera will be a semi-staged production – perfect for the casual opera goer.

One of the most exciting works in the 2021 season is Parrwang Lifts the Sky (Jun 12), a new work by renowned composer, soprano and Yorta Yorta woman Deborah Cheetham. The opera will be sung in both English and Wadawurrung language, recounts the Wadawurrung creation story of Parrwang: the magpie who lifted the sky to allow the sun to rise. 

The Green Room award-winning opera Lorelei (Jun 29-Jul 2) will also make a return, following its popular run in 2018. The modern operatic cabaret stars Ali McGregor, Antoinette Halloran and Dimity Shepherd as muses inspired by the Greek myth and upon her story. Should the 2018 fashions also make a comeback, audiences are likely to be delighted on a number of levels. 

The Sleeping Beauty
Photograph: © Charlie KinrossScene from The Sleeping Beauty

Speaking of comebacks, Richard Meale's Voss (Aug 4) has also been announced as part of the 2021 season. The opera is based on the Patrick White novel of the same name and was first performed more than 30 years ago. Following the explorer Voss as he navigates the unforgiving outback, the opera is known for being intrinsically Australian. 

Finally (FINALLY) Melburnians will get to see the Australian premiere of The Who's Tommy (Aug 13-21) after it was delayed a year due to you-know-what. The exciting rock musical has won five Tony Awards and features music and lyrics by Pete Townshend. 

In The Butterfly Lovers (Sep 13, 15, 16) Victorian Opera teams up with Singaporean company Wild Rice to regale audiences with a tale of love and its ability to transcend obstacles. The story is based on a traditional Chinese tale of two lovers who are ultimately doomed, only to find freedom as butterfly spirits. 

The annual youth opera for 2021 will be The Friends of Salamanca (Nov 19, 20). This is an Australian premiere centres around the time-tested operatic theme of love – be that romantic or platonic – all set within the sunny climes of (you guessed it), Salamanca, Spain. 

Victorian Opera's year is rounded out with an oldie but a goodie: The Merry Wives of Windsor (Dec 3, 4). This semi-staged performance is of course based on the comedy by William Shakespeare and his recurring, sometimes bumbling character Falstaff. 

For the 2021 season, Victorian Opera is releasing subscription packages quarterly, with the first two operas of the year available now as a package (tickets to see the shows individually go on sale December 10). 

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