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Opera finds a voice on the Gold Coast

Arts & Culture

The hinterland of the Gold Coast has inspired performer and creative producer Jenna Robertson to create a contemporary opera.

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Before she relocated to the Gold Coast almost three years ago, Jenna Robertson, was based in Sydney but travelling frequently with her busy performance and production schedule as an opera singer.

The Scottish born soprano had left a successful career in chemical engineering to pursue her passion in the arts and finding a home in the hinterland 25 kilometres outside the Gold Coast felt like a respite.

“Sydney was very busy and expensive,” Robertson said.

“Coming to the Gold Coast, especially the hinterland, I felt like I could exhale.

“When I first moved here, I was still away a lot of the time and when I came home it was my chance to rest and recover. There’s this sense of belonging that I have almost never felt before.”

Not long after landing in her new home in Lower Beechmont, Robertson won a place on the City of Gold Coast Producer Placement Program to work on Opera at Jimbour at the Queensland Music Festival in 2019.

It was a big year for Robertson’s creative development, as she was also granted a place in Generate GC.

An initiative of the City of Gold Coast, Generate GC is delivered in partnership with the internationally acclaimed program Situate – Art in Festivals, and Robertson has used the program to create Spirit Orphan.

“This is my first original work which will be an opera and dance work,” Robertson said.

“As an opera singer, it’s really unusual because we usually come to work and it’s already been written by someone a very long time ago.

“So it’s contemporary opera… and this is potentially where I see my career going. To put all this together and work towards creating contemporary opera that might have an impact on the evolution of the art form.”

Robertson said she is just completing the research and development phase of the project and part of that has been community engagement, which has meant interviewing members of the Gold Coast community.

“The goal of Generate GC is to create site-specific work, which means it’s inspired by and responds to one particular place. In my project it’s the hinterland,” she said.

Jenna Robertson, Generate GC Lab 2019. Photo: Maleika Halpin

The night before the second Artist Lab for Generate GC, Robertson was evacuated from her home as the bushfires encroached on Lower Beechmont.

“Fire was on my mind all the way through that lab and there’s been a lot of conversations in the community about fire and the recovery from that so that’s really fed into my project,” Robertson said.

Robertson is now about to start a residency funded by Arts Queensland with Gold Coast composer Corrina Bonshek to work on the music for Spirit Orphan.

She is also one of 20 Australian arts leaders on the Australia Council Future Leaders cohort, will debut as a soloist at the Brisbane Music Festival on 12 September, and perform the title role in La Traviata in Albany, WA next year.

Jenna Roberston, Force Majeure INCITE Masterclass 2020. Photo: Ashley de Prazer

Roberston stresses that opera should be experienced, not just heard.

“I think one of the most incredible things about hearing an operatic voice is experiencing it live,” Robertson said.

“The way that live performance of opera affects the person who’s experiencing it – it can only be felt. It’s almost like it changes the vibration of the cells in your body.

“There’s a lot of digital stuff out there but it’s not the same as feeling an opera singer’s voice.”

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