Opera steps back into the local spotlight

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Baritone Colin Milner in the title role of Gianni Schicchi for Canberra Opera… “It’s a rising tide for everybody.” Photo: Michaella Edelstein

In an unwonted outburst of harmony, Canberra’s vocal performers are singing from the same song sheet – they all want opera to thrive in Canberra, writes arts editor HELEN MUSA.

“IT’S a rising tide for everybody,” says veteran artist and Canberra baritone Colin Milner.

The enormously popular singer in the Canberra music scene was rejoicing at the local opera renaissance evident in the launch of the National Opera company and Toby Cole’s “Handel in the Theatre”. 

“It helps everybody to develop. And, yes, I would audition for the National Opera if the opportunity arose.”

In an unwonted outburst of harmony, Canberra’s vocal performers are singing from the same song sheet – they all want opera to thrive in Canberra.

Pretty well every player in the local operatic game was at the National Portrait Gallery on February 6 for the official launch of the National Opera, under the artistic direction of Peter Coleman-Wright. 

There, even as older patrons lamented the loss of the Canberra Opera in the ’70s and ’80s and its successor Opera ACT, as well as the slow erosion of the chamber opera company Stopera, the main players were out there talking up the future.

Opera Australia’s “Carmen” is on the subscription list, for instance.

Then there have been the entertaining efforts of Canberra Opera, (only recently transmogrified into National Opera) with a lively double-bill last year of Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” and Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana”. 

Over at Tuggeranong Arts Centre, some of the players in the operatic game, including veteran repetiteur Colleen Rae-Gerrard, lashed out with “Opera in a Nutshell: La Traviata”.

Milner is no novice, either. Some years ago he performed a lead role of John Wesley in Penelope Thwaites’ musical theatre work “Ride! Ride!”. He’s also been seen here in everything from “Mary Poppins” to “The Coronation of Poppea.” 

Last year with some relish he played the title role of Gianni Schicchi for Canberra Opera as a sleazy second hand car salesman-type.

A retired diplomat, in his youth Milner trained for three years with the celebrated baritone Ronald McConachie at the Canberra (now ANU) School of Music and enjoyed a summer intensive course at the Manhattan School of Music. 

By the time he was posted to Pretoria, he was good enough to score a permanent professional part-time position in the State Theatre’s Opera Chorus.

Later, as Australia’s special representative to Nauru in 2004 and 2005, he sang in church with local community members and now he’s busy at the ANU writing a PhD thesis on the Australian solicitor-general Robert Garran, while also finding plenty of time for singing.

More on National Opera at nationalopera.org.au


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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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