Deborah returns to the House where it all began

Deborah Cheetham and John Wayne Parsons.

When Australia’s first Indigenous opera Pecan Summer is performed at the Sydney Opera House next month it will take composer Deborah Cheetham back to the place where she first fell under opera’s spell.

“I grew up in Sydney and I was very fortunate to have a wonderful music teacher in high school who took me along to my first opera back in 1979,” she says.

“The theatre we are producing Pecan Summer in this year is the exact same theatre. There’s a lovely synchronicity about that.

“Added to that my high school music teacher who is now a dear friend will be there to see the performance.

“I’m pretty happy about that.”

The Sydney Opera house performance will be the fifth production of Pecan Summer, which tells the story of the 1939 walk-off by 200 people of the Yorta Yorta nation in protest at the harsh and inhumane conditions.

The opera premiered in Victoria in 2010 at Mooroopna, where it is set, and has also been performed in Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide.

Its success led to the creation of the Short Black Opera Company — the first Indigenous opera company in the world – of which Cheetham is artistic director.

Most of the company will be on stage in the new production which will feature 40 performers from across Australia, including a 15-member children’s chorus whose youngest member is just seven.

Among the performers in lead roles will be Cheetham, Shauntai Batzke, Green Room Award winner Jessica Hitchcock and John Wayne Parsons.

It will also, for the first time, feature new 3D technology.

Cheetham hopes that next year Pecan Summer will tour overseas and is also aiming to invite Indigenous operas, companies and performers from other countries to Australia for a special Indigenous opera festival.

“The production we’ve designed for the Sydney Opera House is designed with touring internationally in mind,” she says. “We’re very keen to take Pecan Summer overseas.

“I can’t say too much about where the first destination will be but we are very hopeful to be able to make an announcement next year about that.”

  • Pecan Summer will be performed at the Sydney Opera House on September 12. Tickets are available from the opera house, online or in person.

Wendy Caccetta

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