David Ogilvie talks with Angela Brewer, Founder and Artistic Director of Coast Opera Australia
Tell us a little about your professional background…
Truth be told, I’m quite an accidental opera singer. Although my parents and extended family have an appreciation for music, going to the opera was not
our usual form of entertainment. My introduction to singing was learning to play piano, classical guitar, cello, and in Grade 2, training in a choir outside of school. This put me in good stead with music history and theory, and taught me how to sight-read music, often four-part harmony, with sol-fa, unaccompanied and in foreign languages. I was recognised to have a voice for operatic repertoire and completed an Honours degree at Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne University, under consecutive scholarships. At the age of 22 I was invited to begin singing with Opera Australia.
Setting up a new opera company would be hard enough in a major city with many potential opera lovers. What motivated you to choose the Central Coast?
Realising there was a need, desire, and curiosity, and that there were artists living here on the Coast who had to leave and commute to work professionally in all areas of theatre, not just as vocalists or instrumentalists. Opera encompasses all areas of the Arts – singers, instrumentalists, actors, dancers, set designers, you name it – the list is endless and one of the few art forms that is so inclusive! The Coast already had a community orchestra, and vibrant groups of music lovers such as the Gosford Musical Society, the developing Conservatorium and other private teaching studios. However, established artists such as myself had nowhere to work at the standard I was accustomed to, especially if they had also worked internationally or were expecting to be paid professional rates.
Do you think your approach could be a model for other regional areas in Australia with similar challenges?
We are not the first with this idea, however I hope we can encourage and inspire more regional areas to do the same, especially once Covid restrictions ease. Our communities will have a hunger like never before to get outside, socialise and be entertained.
Coast Opera’s performances are very well attended. Do you think that there is an untapped appetite for classical music and opera outside of the capital cities in Australia?
Yes, I have found an even stronger desire for world-class events since they didn’t exist on the Coast in the past. It’s an exciting treat for our audiences to have a singer walk off the stage at La Scala in Italy, and the next day be performing with Coast Opera Australia.
COA has sung in swish restaurants, RSL clubs, a stadium, and even at car launches. Are these just pragmatic choices in the absence of a dedicated performance space on the Central Coast, or a different way to interface with the general public?
Our community deserves and expects honesty and directness from me on this topic. Despite decades
of promises by the local Council and pre-election funding commitments by the NSW State Government, there is no real indication when this performance space project will go ahead, particularly after the recent revelation of Council’s indebtedness. COA is encouraging those in positions of power to listen to our artistic community’s request and build a multi-purpose, regional performing arts venue here in Gosford, the heart of the Coast!
If that were to happen, would you continue performing in ‘unorthodox’ venues?
Absolutely. We want to showcase the beautiful Central Coast with outdoor and indoor musical events that entice people to our region. Coast Opera Australia is community-focussed with an entrepreneurial approach, such as Salute to the Anzacs or Disney to Diva from the Central Coast Stadium which was viewed online by hundreds of thousands nationally and internationally.
It’s a common complaint amongst opera companies that they are obliged to serve up a familiar diet of well-known works such as Carmen, Don Giovanni, and La bohème, or risk losing their audience with new or unusual repertoire. Is this something that concerns you?
I think it’s important to acknowledge the history of Opera and provide some well-known works, however we are not trying to compete with companies like Opera Australia which are already well established. COA is here to provide new musical experiences, entice our faithful audience members, and develop a new market for future sustainability. Opera Afloat at Saddles at Mt. White is a classic example of mixing the old with the new.
What are your thoughts for the future of Coast Opera, given that we may be forced to live with COVID-19 for quite some time?
I see our future as very positive. Yes, it has been challenging to navigate Covid, however just like other past diseases society has controlled, I am certain we will be out of the woods and back on stage performing very soon. Our priority is to protect the health of our audiences, performers, and those who get the show on the road for the benefit of us all. Due to the present Covid restrictions, Coast Opera Australia has once again redesigned our concerts for an online platform. In August we will be announcing our four-part series Backstage Q&A. This will be a live, interactive conversation with professionals from the music industry. Our audience will be able to submit their questions on any topic relating to the professional lives and experiences of our artists; a great opportunity to find out how opera really works from an intimate, behind-the-scenes perspective.