Musical theatre legend, Deborah Cheetham AO has finally brought her compelling Indigenous opera, Pecan Summer to the home of the iconic Opera House.
Since its inception in 2010, Pecan Summer's touring performances have captured the hearts of audiences in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and most significantly, at its official premier in the small town of Mooroopna in Victoria on Yorta Yorta land where the story takes place. The success of Cheetham's opera has now formed the Short Black Opera Company (SBO), a national not-for-profit opera company devoted to the development of Indigenous opera singers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander achievement.
Intensive rehearsals have begun for the cast, who are made up of independent actors and musicians, an ensemble from the SBO and the Dhungala Children's Choir. The Bangara Dance Theatre HQ, used as a rehearsal space for Cheetham's mob has recently came alive with the great sound of sopranos, baritones and children's harmonies, all prepare for their Opera House debut on Monday 12 September.
Jessica Hitchcock, who plays leading role as Alice, says that rehearsals have been 'really good, but really intense', she told NITV,
"Lots of work is going into this show and lots of different layers now, with the kids arriving and the adults working and working with the two different casts. Many people are meeting each other for the first time and others are just getting back into it."
Darcy Pierce, 17, member of the Dhungala Children's Choir, has been with Pecan Summer from the very beginning and landed her spot during a workshop that Cheetham and SBO company manager, Toni Lalich, held at her school when she was in year five.
"[Rehearsals] are always intense and full on, with various different types of rehearsals, but with the Dhungala Children's Choir we rehearse the first Sunday of every month, it’s pretty … the same every time.
"Whereas here, we go to different places and do different things like the tech rehearsals and dress rehearsals, so there’s a lot going on .. But it also mean a lot of different experiences, so it’s great."
Monday night's Sydney performance could be nerve-racking for even the most seasoned performers, as it has been confirmed that former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will be in the audience. He sits as a particularly special guest, given his famous 2008 apology speech features, broadcasting in one of the performances most emotional scenes.
Monday night's Sydney performance could be nerve-racking for even the most seasoned performers, as it has been confirmed that former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will be in the audience.
Hitchcock says that it will be interesting to see how the Sydney audience reacts emotionally to the story, given the region's history.
"There’s a lot of history here," she told NITV. "I mean, this is where the first place Aboriginal people were met by white people and for that reason they would probably bear the brunt of what happened. So there’s a lot of history here for Indigenous people and non-Indigenous."
"I mean, [Sydney] is where the first place Aboriginal people were met by white people and for that reason they would probably bear the brunt of what happened. So there’s a lot of history here for Indigenous people and non-Indigenous."
But it's not just the audience who resonate with the powerful depiction of Aboriginal struggle throughout European settlement, Caiti Easton, 27, who plays 'The Daughter' says that the best part of Pecan Summer, for her, has been her growth as an Indigenous person.
"The support that I have and the family that I've now made is so phenomenal," she told NITV. "Because of the policies and the politics and things like that, it took us a while to find out where I came from - where my family came from. So I’ve missed on so much of out my own personal history, but because we came here together and [other cast members] have a similar story and there are so many cast members who are a part of the Stolen Generations, together we were able to not necessarily find out about our own history but we’ve all got this own family history that we’ve developed together, we’re kind of discovering who we are.
"It’s been wonderful. Although my family doesn’t know who we are exactly, I know who I am because of these people and because of the stories that I’m able to grow with them."
Tickets for Pecan Summer Monday 12 September can be purchased through the Sydney Opera House website