Co-Opera takes the barber to the bush

One of the country’s best opera venues is housed in an old pig shed, according to Co-Opera’s musical director Josh van Konkelenberg, who’s taking grand productions to small towns.

“Everyone should have access to this kind of music-making,” says Co-Opera’s musical director Josh van Konkelenberg. “Live theatre is a wonderful event for many reasons – at the top of the pyramid it’s that it’s so much fun, and these are big community events.”

In the middle of a three-state regional tour of The Barber of Seville and preparing to hit stages in Adelaide and across South Australia’s bush, van Konkelenberg speaks with passion about his company’s mission to perform work in an accessible way, and the benefit that brings its performers and audiences.

“[It’s also about] giving young singers a chance to learn the major roles when they might not have a chance to do that at the major companies,” he says.

In terms of accessible opera, there are few better choices for a tour than the hilarious and charming story of The Barber of Seville. While the name might only ring a faint bell for some, it is a 200 year old work that has crept into pop culture, such as its Looney Tunes adaptation or references in The Simpsons.

“The humour is completely built into the music – it’s a genuine masterpiece,” says van Konkelenberg. “Pretty much everyone in our culture that grew up with Bugs Bunny has been exposed to The Barber of Seville, though not everyone would have seen the show itself.”

Having been chosen in consultation with the communities that Co-Opera tours to, this rendition of The Barber has its own distinctly regional flavour. Inspired by the history of the production, the genre and Victorian gold rush era, van Konkelenberg has built a show open to audiences of all comers.

“We have combined three different ideas,” he says. “One is the origin of opera, this kind of storytelling and Commedia Del Arte… We’ve combined the stereotypical types of characters with the idea of a touring opera company, which we very much are anyway. We’ve taken that and set it in the Ballarat-esque area in the time of the goldfields, because while Australia was isolated at that time, it was absolutely up to date with what was happening culturally everywhere. The Barber of Seville was out in Australia two years after it premiered in 1816, so people back then were completely aware of it.”

Speaking about the tour so far, which has taken the company through the likes of Deniliquin, Elmore, Casino, Coffs Harbor, Tiliga, Lismore and Merimbula, van Konkelenberg says audiences have come from far and wide to engage with the show.

“They really want to come up and talk,” he says. “They’re really grateful that we come out and spend the time. I mean some of these places we might drive 13 hours to get to, and many communities we visit, the entire town can turn out. It’s a real event, and different to the city – it’s not just a performance.”

One curious regional tour destination that captures The Adelaide Review’s attention is Morundah. The tiny town in central New South Wales is home to a few dozen people, but in van Konkelenberg’s words, one of the best opera venues in Australia, which draws a huge crowd from the surrounding region.

“The guy who owns the pub – big opera fan,” he says. “They have a committee there and they turned an old pig shed into an opera hall. They designed the acoustics in cooperation with Opera Australia, so there are doors all over the walls to get the right balance of resonance and sound… I’ve got to say, it’s one of the best venues I’ve ever performed at if I’m being honest… It’s a bit of a badge of honour to perform at the Morundah Pub.”

Co-Opera is currently touring The Barber of Seville throughout South Australia.

Adelaide 
Saturday, April 28 & Sunday, April 29, 7:30pm
The Thomas Edmonds Opera Studio,  Adelaide Showgrounds

Regional SA
Penola: Thursday, May 17
Whyalla: Saturday, May 19
Pt Lincoln: Sunday, May 20 
Ceduna: Wednesday, May 23
Roxby Downs: Saturday, May 25

Tickets available via co-opera.com.au

Photography: Lester Wong 

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