’Til the Black Lady Sings: Indigenous Voices for Twenty-First Century Opera

Join us for a discussion and performance of excerpts from Australia’s first Indigenous opera, Pecan Summer, with its composer, internationally renowned Yorta Yorta soprano Deborah Cheetham, accompanied by Toni Lalich.

For more than twenty years Cheetham has pursued a career as the only classically trained Indigenous singer in Australia. In her discussion of the opera, she provocatively asks: ‘What if Australian Indigenous voices became the new sound in opera around the world?’

In 2007 Cheetham began work on Pecan Summer with an Indigenous cast. Its story is based on the 1939 Cummeragunja protest, in which her grandparents, along with nearly 200 other Yorta Yorta residents, walked off their mission in response to poor living conditions. In telling this story, Pecan Summer is a contemporary opera for Indigenous Australians, and a story for all those interested in justice. ‘At its heart opera is a way of telling stories through song and dance, costume and makeup’, Cheetham says. ‘Indigenous Australians have been passing on culture in this exact fashion for more than 1000 generations’.

Deborah Cheetham

Since her international debut in 1997, Deborah Cheetham has performed in the theatre and concert halls in the United States, Europe, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and throughout Australia. In April 2007, she was awarded a two-year fellowship from the Australia Council for the Arts to develop Pecan Summer. This success has led to the creation of Short Black Opera Company, a national not-for-profit initiative devoted to the development of Indigenous opera singers. Deborah is also Associate Dean of Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne and Head of the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts. Toni Lalich is pianist, head repetiteur and company manager of Short Black Opera.

This presentation will be introduced by Professor Helen Gilbert, Director of ‘Indigeneity in the Contemporary World’, a 5-year interdisciplinary project funded by the European Research Council and hosted at Royal Holloway, University of London. www.indigeneity.net/ecocentrix

The event is organized in association with the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, Kings College London.

Photo credit: Deborah Cheetham by Jorge de Araujo