Cop some proper opera

THE BIG O: Peta Blyth and David Wakeham will perform The Opera Gala.
THE BIG O: Peta Blyth and David Wakeham will perform The Opera Gala.

"I think the big 'O' word scares people. But when they do come to see the marvellous works we're presenting they love it. It's getting them over that barrier which is the hard part. It's a barrow I've been pushing for years."

Her program includes some of the greatest classical works in Western European history. Highlights are Donizetti's 'Mad Scene' from Lucia di Lammermoor, arias from Macbeth and The Carmen Fantasy for flute and piano. Songs by Ivor Novello, Cole Porter and Sigmund Romberg balance them with pop from across the modern era.

Peta sings soprano, alongside internationally renowned baritone, David Wakeham, flautist Karen Lonsdale and pianist John Woods. David Wakeham's a superstar in the field, having played most of the major European opera houses, the Western Australian Opera and Opera Australia.

As they're mostly sung in Italian, Peta first narrates the story of each ten or fifteen minute piece.

Her company, Opera North West also performs regional concerts and hires local players as they tour, with the assistance of ArtsNSW and other sponsors.

"We've got six singers, an orchestra of 22 and a choir, so there are 45 people on stage. They're often recruited locally. Many people who live in the region are professional musicians, so we provide a performance venue and cultural events; we're not just bringing them in from the city."

Peta is such an opera fiend that she's been running an outdoor concert, Opera in the Paddock since 2002, on her family farm west of Inverell. Her husband Bill is not an opera buff, "but he's a very tolerant man. One singer in the family is enough," Peta says firmly.

It's a rigorous world, whose participants are highly-trained. Peta, who holds an Order of Australia medal, took First Class Honours in Music at the University of Queensland. She also studied at the Royal College of Music in London.

She's performed with the Australian Opera as an understudy for Dame Joan Sutherland, with the Lyric Opera of Queensland, in Hong Kong and in New Zealand and as a soloist with the Queensland Symphony and Philharmonic Orchestras.

"It's what I do, so I don't think of it as anything elitist. It's a very exacting art-form. Performing in a production such as this is a matter of constant rehearsal. You have to learn to pace yourself. Colds and flu are the enemy. Like an athlete, if you get something it can take a while to get back on form."

And like an athlete, she's enthralled by her work, enthusing about this production in the awed tones of a true aficionado.

"There's so much good stuff in this presentation. The combination of voice and flute in Donizetti's famous 'Mad Scene' is absolutely thrilling. I don't think we can ever have enough classical music. Compared to Europe, where this sort of thing is much more in the daily life of people, we have very little and we need to bring more people into this world."

The Opera Gala plays the Star Court Theatre on Saturday, August 25 at 8pm, with drinks and nibbles from 7pm. Tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for students. For bookings phone 6622 5005 or go to www.starcourttheatre

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