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Singing for their supper: Opera Queensland steaks out new ground

Statewide

Opera Queensland is embarking on its biggest tour of regional Queensland yet, launching the season next month at Beef Australia in Rockhampton, the beef industry’s pinnacle event.

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Big hats and big bulls will meet the big voice of Opera Queensland’s bold vision to combine country and operatic music genres in a new production bound for 30 rural centres across the state.

Before hitting the road for the 7000 km road trip, the cast and crew will stage the world premiere of ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ on May 4 at the Rockhampton Showgrounds.

The production’s launch in the state’s ‘beef capital’ will be in the middle of Beef Australia 2021, the industry’s triennial event that is expected to attract more than 100,000 people through the gates from May 2-8.

The joint collaboration between Opera Queensland and Beef Australia organisers was unveiled at a special preview in the Parliamentary Annexe in Brisbane last night, attended by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and senior ministers, including Deputy Premier Steven Miles, Treasurer Cameron Dick and Agriculture Minister Mark Furner.

Also attending was Opposition Leader David Crisafulli and his predecessor Deb Frecklington, as well as chief health officer Jeanette Young, perhaps underscoring the significance of Beef as the largest event of its type yet held in Australia in the post-Covid environment.

After mass cancellations of country shows last year, including the Ekka in Brisbane, Beef Australia was in serious doubt until Queensland’s successful containment of the pandemic allowed the State Government in December to give organisers the green light to proceed with a ‘Covid-safe’ event.

The Federal Government has committed $3.9 million and the State Government $1 million to the event, both record investments, which according to Beef Australia chair Bryce Camm will contribute to the “best Beef ever”.

“We have a record number of principal partnerships to the tune of more than $2.9 million from private business forking out to be part of the Beef Australia event. That’s something that should be celebrated,” he said.

“It’s recognition that beef is big business. It represents more than $20 billion to the Australian economy and Queensland is the beef state, with more than half the national herd residing here.

“And beef runs deep through our state capital of Brisbane as well, the country’s largest beef processors are based here – the city’s largest employers in the manufacturing sector and our largest pastoral houses who have their head offices here.”

Now all roads are seemingly leading to Rockhampton, with local accommodation near capacity and residents opening up their homes to the surplus guests still without a reserved bed, according to Beef Australia CEO Ian Mill.

The stage is literally set, according to Opera Queensland director Patrick Nolan, to stage a production as big and bold as the Australian beef industry.

With a cast of young Australian singers including Irena Lysiuk, Marcus Corowa and Jonathan Hickey, Are You Lonesome Tonight features arias and songs by composers such as Puccini, Verdi, Slim Dusty and Dolly Parton.

At the Rockhampton performance, the core cast will be joined on stage by a 70-strong local community choir, who are being assembled especially for the event.

The initiative is part of Opera Queensland’s concerted push to take more performances outside major cities, improving on the last milestone they set in pre-Covid times in 2019, when their ensembles visited 17 regional and rural centres across the state.

“What we do and what we deliver to audiences is as nourishing and life-giving as the beef you put on people’s plates,” Nolan told guests last night.

The ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ concept is the creative brainchild of Opera Queensland’s director of learning, regional and community, Mark Taylor, a former school principal at primary schools at Windorah and Jundah.

Camm told guests that the Beef Australia board actively sought an arts company to collaborate with in the aim of developing the expo from an industry only showcase into an iconic Queensland cultural event.

He paid tribute to Taylor’s vision in bringing the partnership to fruition.

“When you work in an industry where we chase cattle for a living, finding an arts company who might want to partner with us isn’t easy,” he said.

“But we’ve been able to pull this together due to a man who has a wild passion for regional Queensland and has been to Beef Australia in the past and think it’s the greatest event he’s ever been to.”

The ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ tour will play at the following locations:

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