HOW Opera - Australian Women in Music Awards Discussion

Yesterday opera makers gathered together to talk about how we can better craft an inclusive and innovative future for Australian opera. I was honoured to host the panel which featured: Cheryl Barker AO, Deborah Cheetham AO, Heather Fairbairn, Dr Jordin Steele, and Lissa Twomey. It was an exciting conversation, one of many to follow as our industry responds to shifts in culture and audience. A number of people have reached out asking for a copy of my opening remarks which provided a rapid-fire introduction to the current national conversation. They are posted below (with a few minor tweaks for clarity and inclusion of references) along with a link to the Facebook livestream.


2019 has seen a national conversation about Australian opera’s lack of inclusivity and innovation. This has come in the wake of a conference called NOW (New Opera Workshop) which was hosted in this city, Brisbane, in April. We’re not going to talk about that conference specifically - I believe only one of our panel members was present. What was important is that for those in attendance this conference galvanised them to speak out about the systemic problems in the opera sector which were exemplified in the conference programming and it’s notable exclusions: particularly women and people of colour. In response, Australian opera makers Sally Blackwood, Liza Lim, Peggy Polias and Bree van Reyk published a list of demands in Arts Hub which you can see on screen. This list has been co-signed by 196 opera creators to date including myself and many of the amazing people who join me on our panel today. These demands are seen as a necessary response to widespread problems in the sector, problems which are substantiated by findings of a National Opera Review published by the Australian Government in 2016.  Australian opera is a diverse, innovative and sometimes even a radical domain, but this has not been forming enough of the narrative major opera institutions choose to present, nor the repertoire they program nor the artists or artistic leadership these institutions employ. 

Some fast facts to frame today’s conversations:

Watch the Facebook livestream of the HOW Opera discussion here.


* This is supported by statistical information from Operabase which tracks global opera productions. For preparation I surveyed the ‘1000 most played titles’ for the 2018/19 season. See also:

Dornic, A., 1994. Opera Performance Survey.

Letts, R., 2014. ‘Australian Orchestras and Opera Companies Programming Australian Works’, in Music in Australian Knowledge Base.

Littlejohn, D., 1992. The Ultimate Art: Essays Around and About Opera, University of California Press.

Image by Australian Women in Music Awards

Image by Australian Women in Music Awards