Although a former penal colony in the middle of the South Pacific may be the last place you’d expect to hear Opera & Classical Music, Norfolk Island does indeed proudly host a marvellous Opera Festival each February. Combining a relaxing island holiday with performances by fine Australian and New Zealand artists has proved an appealing concept, described by several past attendees as “sublime”.
When large suitcases crammed with full length gowns, suit bags holding tails and white bow ties, a cello, music stands and various boxes jostle their way along the luggage conveyor at Norfolk’s airport, the tell-tale baggage heralds an exciting week on the island. As the charming old venues of Rawson Hall and Ferny Lane Theatre receive a spruce up, opera singers and musicians from both sides of the Tasman claim their baggage and head to cottages and hotel rooms to unpack and settle in for the week. They are here for the ever popular Opera in Paradise festival held each year on Norfolk Island.
The 2010 Opera in Paradise Festival is the sixth on Norfolk Island, produced by Queensland’s boutique Opera & Song Company, OPERATIF! OPERATIF!’s Stewart Cameron says the company enjoys big projects, especially the Norfolk Festival. “We love putting together all the elements to create this unique musical holiday. A festival of opera and classics on a small, beautiful island in the South Pacific is really rather magical! To be able to sit and listen to Puccini, Mozart and Chopin, then emerge from a theatre and head off to a cliff-top fish fry or for a swim in pristine Emily Bay is certainly unusual!”, Whilst one might wonder about the absence of a concert hall on Norfolk Island, the available venues adapt surprisingly well to the requirements of opera and classics, resonating equally well the operatic high ‘C’s, with the warm tones of a cello or the crash-and-roll of the keys in a Chopin Polonaise.
“Without these marvellous old venues, we simply couldn’t perform acoustically,” said Stewart, “and hearing voices and instruments without amplification is always the ideal. Having two marvellous Yamaha pianos at our disposal is an added bonus.” The pianos, housed at Ferny Lane Theatre, are owned by Ian and Monica Anderson who have lovingly converted a large retail outlet into a theatre from which they host music, plays and movies all year round.
Opera in Paradise always offers an impressive Trans-Tasman cast, with artists past and present including Melbourne-born soprano, Jennifer Parish, former Aucklander, baritone Stewart Cameron, Tongan-Samoan tenor, Benjamin Fifita Makisi, The Queensland Pops Orchestra Trio led by concert master Julie-Anne O’Reilly and distinguished Australian concert pianists, husband and wife team, Max Olding and Pamela Page.
The opportunity to be ‘up close and personal’ with the performers is ever present as the Festival artists spend ‘down time’ enjoying the Island, too. The size of Norfolk makes it highly likely that you might share a coffee with a baritone, a horse ride with a soprano or a seat in the glass bottom boat with some pianists! Socialising with the performers is just part of the fun of a festival which brings together music lovers from all over Australia and New Zealand. As international web sites increasingly pick up on the Festival, OPERATIF! have now had enquiries from the UK, so doubtless some Northern Hemisphere visitors will attend future festivals and absorb Norfolk’s fascinating history at the same time.
Image Credit: Robin Nisbet
Article content disclaimer: Article first published in 2899 Magazine V2 Iss1, 2009. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.