Victoria State Opera

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The Victoria State Opera (VSO), based in Melbourne, Australia, was founded in Melbourne in 1962. The company, founded by Leonard Spira, was a move into grand opera by the then amateur Gilbert and Sullivan-oriented Victorian Light Opera Co.[1] The name changed to the Victorian Opera Company in 1964 in a move to enable the company to perform a broader repertoire.[2]

Early years Victoria Opera 1962–1976[edit]

An attempt to professionalise the company as the Victorian Opera Co was made by Alfred Ruskin, foundation chairman[3] and Peter Burch, general manager (1970–1974),[4] who in 1971 appointed Dame Joan Hammond to the board. In 1972 she brought Richard Divall to Melbourne. Richard Divall was to remain with the company as Music Director until 1996. In 1976 Dame Joan Hammond accepted a position at the Victorian College of the Arts and was replaced as chairman by John Day (1976–1982).[5]

Richard Divall instantly made his mark on the company, raising it to a new level of professionalism with a landmark production Of Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea directed by Rod Anderson and starring Marilyn Richardson. Through these early years the company made a major contribution to the popularization of Opera through its highly successful schools touring productions of specially commissioned works employing and giving work and experience to younger singers from the company. Another highlight of these years was a production of Donizetti's Maria Stuarda in July 1976, directed by Robin Lovejoy with a cast including Nance Grant and June Bronhill conducted by Richard Divall.[6] This was to be the last opera produced under the Victoria Opera Company banner.

Victoria State Opera 1976–1995[edit]

1996 Company letterhead of the Victoria State Opera

In 1976 the new chairman John Day added the word 'State' to its title to become Victoria State Opera. He is quoted in The Age on 29 July 1976, saying that the new title had "more prestige" and "a more official cachet." He stated further that, "The State Opera would not seek to emulate the lavishness of Australian Opera Company productions." It would concentrate on attracting younger audiences with modern and experimental productions combining opera with music and drama.

The subsidy from the Victorian State Government in 1975 was AUD165,000. In 1976 the VSO sought an increase to AUD$280,000 with an unchanged Federal Government subsidy of AUD56,000.

The first production under the new banner was Gluck's Orfeo and Eurydice, starring Margaret Field, which opened at the National Theatre, St Kilda on 30 July 1976.

Significant appointments in these early years include:

In 1977 Robin Lovejoy was appointed Artistic Advisor to the Victoria State Opera.[10] VSO productions he directed include:

In 1982 Sir Rupert Hamer, the former premier of Victoria, became Chairman of the Victoria State Opera and was to remain in this position until 1995. It was a fitting appointment as Sir Rupert had been a vigorous supporter of the building of the Arts Centre Melbourne complex. From 1984 the company performed in the newly built State Theatre, part of the Arts Centre Melbourne, where it presented at least four to five operas a year over two seasons, which eventually rivalled those of the Australian Opera given in the same space. At its height, the VSO had over 13,000 season subscribers.[1][12] In 1985 Brian Stacey was appointed as Head of Music.[13]

Other notable production highlights include appearances by Suzanne Steele, most notably in the lead role of La belle Hélène and as Eurydice in Orpheus in the Underworld. There were also Don Giovanni, Tannhäuser, The Pearl Fishers (which toured to Sydney), The Tales of Hoffmann, Faust, Aida, Il trovatore, The Barber of Seville, The Magic Flute, Andrea Chénier, Turandot, Madama Butterfly (the traditional production by Andrew Sinclair or the Ken Russell production in 1986, as part of the Spoleto Festival)[14] and a production of Lohengrin produced by August Everding.[12]

As the VSO designed their productions for the State Theatre, a 2077-seat theatre with one of the largest stages in the world,[15] they were able to make full use of the facilities i.e. revolving stage, hydraulic stages and were able to create imaginative and exciting effects in their productions. Their first opera in the State Theatre was the new John Copley production of Verdi's Don Carlos in 1984.[16] The curtains remained open during set changes so the audience could marvel at the machinery.

World premieres[edit]

  • Inner Voices (chamber opera) by Brian Howard and Louis Nowra, 2 October 1979 (Grant Street Theatre, Melbourne), conducted by Richard Divall; cast included Lyndon Terracini
  • Hunger by Neil Clifton, 1982
  • Metamorphosis, opera by Brian Howard and Steven Berkoff, 30 September 1983 (St Martin's Theatre, Melbourne), conducted by Graham Cox; cast included Lyndon Terracini
  • Fly, an opera in two acts and four scenes by Barry Conyngham and Murray Copland, 25 August 1984 (State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne),[17] conducted by John Hopkins; cast included Anthony Roden

Merger with Australian Opera 1996[edit]

The company decided to agree to a merger with the Australian Opera.[18] In that merger Richard Divall was appointed Principal Resident Conductor of Opera Australia from 1996 until 2001, Lindy Hume was appointed Associate Artistic Director with overall control, remaining in Sydney with Moffatt Oxenbould. That merger, which was to cover opera in New South Wales and Victoria, was not a success, and the newly named Opera Australia cut back the staff in Melbourne, and, while retaining an office in Melbourne, returned the great majority of its operations to Sydney.

The Elizabethan Trust Melbourne Orchestra, formed in 1969 to support the Australian Opera and the Australian Ballet, survived the merger. In 1987 it was renamed the State Orchestra of Victoria (now Orchestra Victoria) and continues to support opera and ballet in the State Theatre. Opera Australia took on the responsibilities of performing opera in both the states of Victoria and New South Wales. More recently, the Victorian Opera has been formed with funding from the Victorian government to provide an opera company for Melbourne and Victoria.



  1. ^ a b "Opera – Entry – The Encyclopedia of Melbourne Online". Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  2. ^ "The VSO Story". 3MBS. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  3. ^ "Alfred.Ruskin".
  4. ^ "Australia Day Honours list | Australian Youth Music Council". 26 January 2011. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  5. ^ "The Age – Google News Archive Search". Google News. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  6. ^ a b "CD5954 Donizetti Maria Stuarda 1976 Melbourne". Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ [2][dead link]
  9. ^ Rupert Hamer
  10. ^ a b "Robin Lovejoy 4". 14 December 1985. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  11. ^ "The Age – Google News Archive Search". Google News. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  12. ^ a b "Meanjin – The Victoria State Opera (Literature & Culture Collection)". Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  13. ^ [3][dead link]
  14. ^ Vicki Fairfax (2002). A Place Across the River: They Aspired to Create the Victorian Arts Centre. Macmillan. p. [page needed].
  15. ^ "State Theatre – Arts Centre Melbourne – the home of the performing arts in Melbourne". Arts Centre Melbourne. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  16. ^ "AusStage". AusStage. 13 May 2008. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  17. ^ "Victoria State Opera". Australian Music Centre. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  18. ^ [4] Archived 12 October 2004 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "CD91241 LOHENGRIN Remedios, Bureau, Melbourne 1985". Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  20. ^ "Berlioz: Les Troyens, etc. – Gala: GL100630 (CD)". Presto Classical. Retrieved 24 August 2013.