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Australian music for opera, ballet and theatre

Colourful Sydney identity Isaac Nathan wrote Don John of Austria, the first ‘Australian’ opera, in the late 1840s, though William Vincent Wallace also wrote some of his West End hit, Maritana, in Sydney at the same time. Australian composers of opera, like Arthur Benjamin, Malcolm Williamson or Peggy Glanville-Hicks, tended to have their successes abroad, though Alfred Hill, Edgar Bainton and others made local contributions. With the creation of the Australian Opera (now Opera Australia) and various state companies the situation improved, especially when companies commissioned works for the Sydney Opera House and Victorian State Theatre. While commissions for full-scale works are still rare, recently composers have benefited from the proliferation of smaller companies such as ChamberMade, Sydney Metropolitan Opera and IHOS, dedicated to contemporary work.

Significant ballet music begins with John Antill’s Corroboree and includes works by Malcolm Williamson, Carl Vine, Graeme Koehne, Gerard Brophy and Elena Kats-Chernin.

Australia has also produced fine composers of incidental music for theatre and film, including Nigel Westlake, Lisa Gerrard, Alan John, Bruce Smeaton, Christopher Gordon, Iain Grandage and David Hirschfelder.

Representative works

  Work Notes
Inner voices (1979) by Brian Howard and Louis Nowraa visceral operatic parable about the corruptions of power to Louis Nowra’s libretto
Hotspur (1980) by Gillian Whiteheadlike many of this composer’s music-theatre works, Hotspur is a collaboration with esteemed poet Fleur Adcock and evokes the medieval world.
Voss (1985) by Richard Meale and David Maloufwith a libretto by David Malouf after Patrick White’s novel, Voss is the first grand opera of the outback.
Vast an all-encompassing choreographic vision of Australia composed for the bicentenary of white settlement.
Digital sheet music sample Wild swans (2002) by Elena Kats-Cherninevokes, among other things, 19th-century Russian ballet in its fairytale setting.
 The Flight of Les Darcy (2001) by Marcellino, Raffaelereconciles art and sport in this opera about the fall of a boxing icon.

More specific categories of Opera

Broader categories of Opera