Co-Opera has been touring cutting-edge opera to regional areas of Australia for 17 years.

Story By Nicholas Cannon

The sun sets on the paddocks and the rolling hills are glowing gold. Dressed-up locals gather in the balmy evening as instruments are finely tuned. Beautifully costumed performers take their places and lights flood the stage. The opera begins.
This scene has been repeated hundreds of times across Australia in theatres, town halls, art galleries, parks, paddocks and woolsheds with Adelaide-based touring company, Co-Opera, bringing the magical world of opera to towns across Australia since 1991. From humble beginnings performing at the Royal Adelaide Show, Co-Opera general manager Brian Chatterton and director/co-founder Tessa Bremner have created performances in a style that challenges the established idea of classic grand opera.
Their first production Pagliacci was bought and toured by Country Arts SA. This helped Co-Opera to apply for financial support from Playing Australia, so by 1998 they were able to tour Madama Butterfly to all states and territories of Australia. The slim-line nature of their productions makes widespread touring more affordable and the company has been touring every year since.
Board member of the Friends of Co-Opera, Libby Ellis, says Co-Opera makes opera accessible. “We take the opera to the people,” she says. “We make the prices affordable and we sing in a language that they understand.” Libby says the company doesn’t take opera too seriously, except for the high standard of performance. Productions are quirky and humorous, enhancing the drama.
Co-Opera productions have become the preferred alternative for opera lovers outside cities as well as giving many people their first experience of this art form. Where the venue allows, tables and chairs are set up cabaret style so the audience can enjoy refreshments during the show and socialise.
Armidale, NSW, resident Nikki Rochford saw Co-Opera’s production of The Marriage of Figaro in March. “I was concerned that moving to a rural community would mean a lack of opportunity to see quality productions,” she says. “However, Co-Opera’s recent production was a revelation to me. I have been a lover of opera for the last 30 years and have attended numerous productions at Covent Garden and the English National Opera in London, as well as regional British companies and the opera houses in San Francisco and Milan. But I have never seen such a witty and beautifully executed production of Figaro as the one Co-opera presented.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #77

Outback Magazine: June/July 2011