Case Study: Opera Australia’s Regional Children’s Chorus


Over 20 years of consecutive national regional touring, Opera Australia has enriched the lives of over 245,000 people living in regional and rural Australia by presenting high caliber opera in a variety of venues and spaces – from pig sheds to town halls and proscenium arch theatres – ensuring as many people as possible have access to the unique cultural experience that is opera.

The largest performing arts company in Australia, Opera Australia encourages the development of young and emerging artists; fosters meaningful connections through community engagement programs with culturally and linguistically diverse communities; pioneers disability access programs; recognises the value and significance of Australia’s indigenous culture; and strives for equitable access to high caliber arts experiences for all Australians regardless of where they may live, in our capital cities, regional centres and remote communities nationally.

While 2016 marks the 60th anniversary of the company, and its position as a mainstay in the Australian cultural landscape, Opera Australia continues to challenge preconceptions of what an opera can be and how it can be experienced.

Launched in 2014, Opera Australia’s Regional Children’s Chorus involves recruiting a local chorus of boys and girls in each participating town to perform as part of the touring production.  Opera Australia conducts intensive workshops in two locations along the tour, where our Chorus Master trains local choir leaders before they then train children in their local areas. The children then work with their local choir leader before Opera Australia’s Regional Children’s Chorus Master arrives in town ahead of the show to work with the students over a number of rehearsals.  This enables them to refine their performance before stepping on stage alongside Opera Australia’s seasoned performers.  In 2015, 280 children aged 8-14 participated in 14 choruses made up of up to 24 children, in 14 performances across 14 locations. This is in addition to the 552 children and 23 choir leaders who participated in 2014.  Opera Australia also tours a Children’s Coordinator whose role is to direct, induct, manage the children and coordinate with the Choir Leaders and chaperones.

“The Regional Children’s Choruses connect with the heart of communities, it transcends the traditional educational program model to a participatory learning experience, and is an exercise in artistic excellence,” coordinator of Touring & Outreach Kate McMillan said.

The Regional Student Scholarship is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for up to four students from centres across regional Australia visited by the Opera Australia Regional Tour.  In each location, senior secondary students have the opportunity to audition for the OA Chorus Master in an accessible, informal setting; receiving feedback and one on one coaching as part of the experience. The four successful candidates are invited to travel to Sydney and spend a week with Opera Australia and have the opportunity to perform an aria for Lyndon Terracini, Opera Australia’s Artistic Director at the end of the week.

Thirty-two student auditions were held in 2015. Peter Webb (Toowoomba, QLD), Nina Faith Wildman (Toowoomba, QLD), Ruth Burke (Scarborough, WA), and Gabriella Sabbadin (Cairns, QLD) were the recipients of Opera Australia’s Regional Student Scholarship and joined Opera Australia for a week of intensive tuition in January 2016. Whilst in Sydney the four finalists participated in world class language and vocal coaching as well as acting and stage craft development each day. Each evening they were invited to attend Opera Australia performances and stage calls at the Sydney Opera House, with exclusive backstage tours of the building and the stage. The successful candidates also secured a significant amount of local media coverage with both Nina and Gabriella being accepted into the Queensland Conservatorium for study in 2016.

“Trailblazing a regional touring circuit beyond the well-trodden path of most performing arts companies, Opera Australia has always worked closely with the venues and communities it visits, presenting much-loved operas sung in English to engage the broadest possible audience; from opera-lovers to first time attendees.  The Regional Tour performs in all nature of venues from state-of-the-art performing arts centres to under the stars in the remote outback, ensuring all Australians regardless of where they live, have the opportunity to enjoy the same high calibre arts experiences as audiences in our capital cities,” Ms McMillan said.

“In an endeavour to reconceptualise and transform the regional touring model, Opera Australia has established a living legacy; creating a participative arts program to augment its traditional presentation program.

“This community engagement program builds long-term and enduring links between Opera Australia and the communities it visits.  The artistic integrity and excellence of Opera Australia’s productions is maintained while this program provides the opportunity for more people to experience, participate and be inspired by opera, music and live performance.”

Ms McMillan said Opera Australia’s Regional Children’s Choruses aims to connect with the heart of the communities and to transcend the traditional educational program model to a participatory learning experience.

“Drawing on established connections into regional and remote communities also enables Opera Australia to leverage the company’s expertise to fine tune presenter’s production and promotion skills and develop new ones.  By working in partnership, we are able to increase the level of expertise available to regional venues and create a living legacy in coordinating the regional tour network,” she said.

“Working in partnership with regional presenters and venues harmonises our mutual audience development objectives.  While we currently work closely with the regional touring network to develop and promote upcoming productions, working together to coordinate the Children’s Chorus program and Regional Student Scholarship  further creates a more cohesive and long-term working relationship.  While Opera Australia can offer its expertise and leadership in driving these innovative community engagement programs, they simultaneously feed into a clear audience development strategy by not only providing a vehicle for children to participate in an ancillary education program, but perform alongside the company’s celebrated principal artists.  This unique opportunity has seen a significant increase in attendance across the tour.

“Meanwhile, the Children’s Chorus program also offers a long-term connection with communities on the ground, and acts as an ongoing avenue to nurture participants’ interest and talent in music.  Similarly, by developing a growing interest in the art form across families, and demystifying the local venue, it is hoped they will also be interested in attending other shows on offer.”

Sam Roberts-Smith (Tamino), Christopher Hillier (Papageno), Anna Dowsley (Spirit) & students from Yarraman Oaks Primary School in OA's THE MAGIC FLUTE.