Herald Sun 10/10/2016


A shortened version of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro has been adapted to have a classic Aussie rock and footy finals theme. Weirdly, it works.

Paul Selar

VIENNA 1786 — the year Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro premiered — is a far-flung irrelevant past in Emotionworks — Cut Opera’s latest foray into presenting opera with an edge. Devised and directed by Artistic Director Julie Edwardson, Aussie rules meets Mozart in a you-beaut, zany and delightful adaptation in which the likes of John Paul Young’s Love Is In The Air (with more than 30 other Oz Rock hits) sits comfortably among Mozart’s golden hued score. Kiss Count Almaviva’s palatial Seville estate goodbye. Edwardson has replaced it with the hierarchy of the football club and its yards of scandalous shenanigans, as the public now expect, to go with it. It could be any club but in this not so far-fetched version, let’s say it’s The Saints. In Edwardson’s version, the four-act opera becomes a four-quarter match and a tussle between love and fidelity as much as a battle of the sexes. There’s an uncanny believable appeal to the well-cast outfit. Richard Woods is the rugged, loutish and rough-edged team captain Figaro. The Count is a self-absorbed womanising coach played by Peter Hanway. Katy Turbitt is a sweet and lively Susanna, the coach’s personal assistant and Figaro’s fiance, and Katrina Waters swans as Rosina, the coach’s rather Brighton-bred wife. Alison Lemoh is the frisky, testosterone-charged new recruit, Cherubino and Maryanne Bird wafts as a sassy Marcelllina, the club social secretary. Wayne Cuebas means business as the mullet hair styled club lawyer, Bartolo, Peter Vadiveloo plays the jockster (and streaks across the oval) as the veteran player Basilio and Natasha Jacoel-Kaminsky is maturing way too quickly as Antonio’s schoolgirl daughter Barberina. All the way down to Bob Hall’s doddery Antonio, the ground curator, the ockerish transposition of roles is a winner with the plot maintained marvellously. The depth of Figaro and Susanna’s love, the poignancy of Rosina’s lamest of love lost and the stirring act of forgiveness she bestows on a repentant husband remain luminous highlights. Accompanying them, Cold Chisel’s Working Class Man (Figaro), Skyhooks’s All My Friends Are Getting Married (Basilio), and Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman (Rosina and Susanna) come into the mix as artists cut between opera and rock, though some with more success than others. As Susanna, Katy Turbitt shines through the two genres but a cogent team spirit and individual strengths leave an indelible impression. Even a little rusty recitative endears alongside the antics. The first half is performed in the clubroom of the North Port Oval with fleet of foot momentum. Then, after half time, the audience moves to the oval’s grandstand for the second half without any wind lost in Edwardson’s deft, tongue in cheek direction as she whips it into priceless entertainment that sports impeccable sound balance. Edwardson herself sits at the keyboard, keeping the tempo rolling with Nigel Sharp on bass guitar and harmonics with Bartolo and Basilio at home alternating on percussion. The coach’s whistle keeps the game on track. Prepare for the thrill of the game. It’s a good one. MARRIAGE OF FIGARO VS OZ ROCK AND AUSSIE RULES Until 23rd October North Port Oval clubroom and grandstand, Port Melbourne until October 23 Rating: three and a half stars9* ““““““““““““““

Pole dancer adds va-va-voom to Verdi as strip club gives opera a fresh twist

Carolyn Webb – THE AGE July 11 2016


Pole dancer Jewel Stone and soprano Justine Anderson will both be performing in a cabaret-style version of Verdi’s opera, ‘La Traviata’. Photo: Eddie Jim

An opera performance “without the boring bits” will see a Melbourne strip club dancer take to the stage with classically trained singers for a cabaret-style version of Verdi’s La Traviata.

Director Julie Edwardson said an earlier season of four performances in 2013 at The Men’s Gallery achieved her aim of bringing new audiences to opera.

A big drawcard for the audience, she said, was curiosity about what’s inside the club, in the west end of Lonsdale Street.

“After we’d finished, people were ringing up saying, ‘are you doing any more shows’?” Edwardson said.

This time there will be six shows, and for the first time, a Men’s Gallery employee, Jewel Stone, will pole-dance to three of the songs.

The cabaret-style show, with Verdi’s arias interspersed with jazz and blues songs by Etta James and Cole Porter and a Moulin-Rouge style look, aims to change the mindset that opera is boring.


Tickets for the season, on from July 16 to 31, are free to under 25s, the opera is trimmed from three hours to 90 minutes, and there is no nudity.

Shows start at 4pm when The Men’s Gallery is usually closed.

La Traviata, meaning “the fallen woman”, was based on Alexander Dumas’s The Lady of the Camellias. It tells how a Parisian courtesan, Violetta (soprano Justine Anderson) falls in love with a young nobleman, Alfredo Germont (tenor Te Ua Houkamau).

Alfredo’s father Giorgio (baritone David Skewes), who is worried about Alfredo’s reputation, convinces Violetta to break off their engagement, but neither lover can forget the other.

The tragedy deepens when Violetta contracts tuberculosis.

The big arias from La Traviata including the famous “brindisi” or drinking song, remain, but there is also a chorus of women who sing jazz and blues songs such At Last, and When I Fall in Love.

The songs (except for the brindisi) are in English, the actors sing in-the-round just metres from the audience, and the bar will be open.

Stone said she is excited to be performing to a different, less sexualised, crowd and believes that pole dancing is an art form, like opera, “although it’s not recognised as one”.

She says staging La Traviata here could help humanise club dancers and challenge prejudices: like Violetta the courtesan, some people thought exotic dancers were “from a different realm”, but they can and do have relationships such as Violetta’s with Alfredo.

Edwardson started staging “cut” operas – “opera without the boring bits” – with her company, Emotionworks, out of a feeling that one way to attract the generation of video games and iPhones to opera, “is by cutting out those lengthy repeated music sections, getting to the point of it, getting the best tunes in there and then mixing in other genres.”

“This is like going to see a band. You come and see opera, you have a drink, it’s more casual, you sit back and relax.”

Carmen Barwon Heads

“The performance of Carmen at the Barwon Heads Comminity Hall on Sturday 23rd January 2016 went off with a bang!

The wonderful cast from Emotionworks had our audience of 185 people mesmerised for two hours with an edgy interpretation of Bizet’s Carmen: A cut opera incorporating various music and dance styles and plenty of dark humour. There was no holding back from this St Kilda based company, evidence that a Barwon Heads audience is open to anything.”

Barwon Heads Arts Council 

Jan 2016

John, Paul, George, Ringo and Giacomo come together in La Beatles Boheme, a bold new adaptation by Emotionworks Cut Opera.
The 90-minute edit of Puccini’s epic is relocated to Liverpool, its four questing artists recast in Fab gear and its libretto woven with Beatles songs.
Opera Australia alumnus Julie Edwardson directs the mash-up of operatic and contemporary voices, which is bound to unsettle purists – as well as opera fans.

Emotionworks’ mission to keep opera alive for new ears extends to the choice of venue, the Prince of Wales Hotel, where the show will play most weekends from the St Kilda Festival on January 31 through February.
Read more:

A MELBOURNE opera company has taken an axe to the traditional art form.

Gone are the three-hour productions, elaborate costumes and grand theatres, replaced with fast-paced shows in venues ranging from a boxing ring to a strip club.

Emotionworks Cut Opera’s next adventure is to present Puccini’s La Boheme in a pub in 90 minutes and with a Beatles twist.

Artistic director Julie Edwardson is convinced that contemporising opera is the way to keep its beautiful stories and music alive.

She sang with Opera Australia for 10 years before becoming one of its directors and is disheartened by a global trend of falling audience numbers and professional companies folding.

Australia is faring better than most with companies such as OA and Victorian Opera creating new works and programming more diverse and popular production.

Edwardson wants to broaden opera’s reach and excite young audiences by cutting out the “boring bits and repetition”.

“The main problem with opera is that it’s too long. Our sensory brains are geared to a very different environment to when opera first developed, but most main-stage opera is works that were written 100 years ago and beyond,” she says.

“If we want to keep this alive we have to accommodate change and the way we respond to entertainment. At the end of the day, that’s what opera is — entertainment. It’s a very highly skilled art form, but it is still theatre and storytelling and we have to communicate that in an entertaining way.”

None of Edwardson’s productions is longer than 90 minutes. She even kept Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which runs for 15 hours, to under two hours, and staged it in a boxing ring (pun intended).

La Beatles Boheme will be given a rock ’n’ roll vibe and performed with a four-piece band (no strings) at the Prince Bandroom in St Kilda.

“We’ve taken the story of Boheme and told it in a really contemporary way, cutting in all the best Beatles songs,” Edwardson says.

“We’re trying to make it more accessible and say the music has to change in order for it to speak to people. We integrate opera singers with contemporary singers. We’re saying no one’s superior here, it’s just a different set of skills. Let’s level it out and say all music is relevant.”

Edwardson first dreamt up Emotionworks about 10 years ago and has grand plans for the company. After building a local fanbase, she aims to pitch her productions to international arts festivals.

“Let’s take opera and make it sell tickets. Let’s honour this wonderful music and these wonderful stories and make it relevant to today,” she says. “My belief is that this is the way to go.”

Like opera but find yourself drifting off during some of the more ponderous arias? Former Opera Australia singer and director Julie Edwardson recognised this as an increasingly common response among audiences several years ago, so set out on what she describes as her ”experiment” with the artform.
Her company, Emotionworks Cut Opera, stages abridged operas with lengths more in tune with the attention spans of modern audiences.
”And also … cut in different musical styles,” says Edwardson.
As well as using traditional scores, Edwardson mixes in jazz, gospel and blues to her reimaginings of classic operatic works – this weekend she’s staging her interpretation of Carmen, which will also feature salsa numbers.
”We’re presenting traditional opera but trying to find a way that’s going to excite a younger audience,” Edwardson explains. She says traditional opera can alienate people.
”Opera companies worldwide are shutting their doors – San Diego Opera folded three weeks ago [they have since begun a crowdfunding campaign to try to mount a 2015 season] and New York City opera has folded. I think generally, opera is not targeting this generation … brought up on highly edited films, video games, and Facebooking. My daughter has five conversations with people at the one time! These kids can’t sit through a four-hour opera.”
Many of the bigger opera companies have tried modernising storylines and costumes, but Edwardson believes that’s not enough.
”That hasn’t involved changing things musically and what I’m saying is music directors and conductors just need to loosen the reins a little bit and realise that, yes, you still present opera in its pure form but there’s an alternative we can present and find a younger audience and a way into this wonderful artform by making it a bit more accessible,” she says.
”Our experiment has really been a cross-genre thing. The more productions I do the more I mix in, because I can see that’s what’s working, and that’s what the audiences are really coming to see.”
Edwardson’s previous works have included a one-hour Ring Cycle, in which the gods were ”rock gods” including David Bowie and Madonna, and Mozart’s The Magic Flute, described as something of a Star Wars spoof.
She describes her latest production as ”Carmen meets Underbelly”, sticking to the original story, but setting it in a contemporary space.
”It is set in modern Melbourne. The story is quite a brutal world she lives in – they’re dealing with smuggling goods, which in our context could refer to smuggling drugs. It’s already a seedy story – she works in a tavern; without it being stated it’s certainly implied she’s a prostitute … we’ve put that into a contemporary context,” Edwardson says.
And they’ve sexed-up the score somewhat. ”We’ve cut in a lot of Latin and salsa music because of the Spanish roots and South American influences. We’ve also got some blues and jazz and gospel in there as well,” she says.
”Don Jose is an opera singer, the Escamillo is played by a blues singer and he sings … in a Tom Waits-style growl. Our Carmen is a jazz singer and she’s performing all the Latin songs that link throughout the piece. What people comment on constantly is how the opera singers and the contemporary singers highlight each other by the fact they’re different and they’re juxtaposed; the audiences are shifting from one style to the next constantly and hearing these different sounds and textures.”
Adding to the atmosphere is the fact Edwardson’s works are staged in non-traditional settings – her last mini season was at the St Kilda Bowls Club and Carmen is on at Fitzroy’s Spanish Club.
”It’s up close and personal. We perform in that cabaret style so the audiences are really in and amid the action, hearing these voices up close. And that’s what people are responding to. It’s lovely – you’re telling the story of Carmen and then we’ll cut into a Latin song or a blues song and the sentiment in those songs supports what’s happening in the story so that the emotional journey through the piece is being highlighted as well. We get a lot of people coming out saying, ‘Gee, I go to the opera and I don’t really understand the story, but this is easy’.”
And, as Edwardson’s slogan goes, ”no boring bits”.
”Everything’s been stretched out [in traditional opera] – you have one idea then you have a 10-minute aria. It’s like the pause button goes on all the time. What we’re doing is getting rid of the pause button; the story gets carried through in more natural time. It provides clarity, particularly for that younger audience who are used to things moving very quickly.”
But Edwardson says her rejigged classics are also attracting older fans.
”We get a lot of baby boomers and people who do go to the opera but their partner doesn’t like it, so they’ll come to this,” she says. ”And we get people dragging their kids along … it’s building and we’re building that younger awareness.”
Read more:

Most entertaining show I’ve seen in years! An intelligent rewriting of the libretto and a clever musical adaptation of Verdi’s masterpiece “La Traviata” by director Julie Edwardson. PART_1365718464883The original symphony orchestra replaced by a four piece band, the twelve main roles cast for the debut at La Fenice reduced to four, the “zingarelle” entertainers joined by a smoking-hot pole dancer and a pimp, performing a surprise final act… Julie’s successful formula for a rather unique and unexpected live performance! Great music, great singing, great acting by all involved, topped by an exceptional soprano playing Violetta, a magic voice! A real jewel awaiting at The Men’s Gallery, a surprise full of surprises. I fully enjoyed it! Bravi!!!? Pasquale Palmieri

The Age 3rd April 2013 – Opera Strips to Bare Essentials

Dick Gross, who will be appearing in La Traviata, appears with a Men’s  Gallery dancer, and opera director Julie Edwardson, at the venue. Photo: Joe  Armao

It must be the first  opera to be held in a strip club.dick7-620x349

Award-winning opera director Julie Edwardson, who sang with Opera Australia  for a decade, is staging a production of Verdi’s La Traviata at a  Melbourne table dancing venue, The Men’s Gallery.

True to her passion for ”opera at the lowest level”, Ms Edwardson has been  holding a series of operas cut down to an hour (”no boring bits”) in  unconventional venues such as pubs and lawn bowling clubs.

Erotic dancers from the Lonsdale Street adult venue have been employed to  perform (clothed) alongside opera singers for the latest Emotionworks ”cut  opera” in what is being billed as a ”street theatre cabaret-style  production”.

”If you hate opera, you’ll love this,” reads the promotion. ”Verdi will  roll in his grave.”

Ms Edwardson said La Traviata is about a dying prostitute who  relives her moments of glory, love and despair, and she wanted the venue to be  specific to the narrative.

She said the story of a fallen woman (la traviata – ”the fallen one”) shows  how virtue is often found where we least expect it.

”The space is fantastic in the upstairs showroom at Men’s Gallery with a  central catwalk, platform stage and poles,” she said. ”The showroom is quite  old and could almost be Victorian with its wood-carved bars and chandeliers.  It’s feels like a Moulin Rouge.

”We don’t want to intimidate people so we’ve been careful to hold the shows  outside the club’s operating hours and there’s no nudity or explicit sex, it’s  all very tame. But, of course, the bar will be open.”

The Men’s Gallery owner, Peter Iwaniuk, said showgirls from around the world  had performed at the venue, but it had never held an opera before. He said he  was keen to draw diverse audiences to the venue and had previously hosted  fashion and comedy shows. ”We’re open to promoting the arts and in a sense our  organisation is about theatre and entertainment because strip tease is an  art.”

There will be four performances of La Traviata starting in late  April and early May at 4pm, when the venue is normally closed.

Read more:

The Age Editorial 4th April 2013 – Verdi Gets a Stripping Down

Opera is, as everyone knows, an art form for the people in which elitism should have no place. Certainly Giuseppe Verdi ( born 200 years ago in October) was a popular hero whose funeral in Milan in 1901 was attended by more than 200,000 people. But the master’s eternal peace faces potential disruption: a forthcoming ‘‘street theatre, cabaret- style production’’ of La Traviata to be staged at the Melbourne table dancing venue the Men’s Gallery at the end of April. As the promotion from Emotionworks – Cut Opera says, ‘‘ If you hate opera, you’ll love this. Verdi will roll in his grave.’’

“Puccini would not recognise this Tosca….energy, verve, courage and imagination….clever use of space….costumes were fun. Director Julie Edwardson kept the action moving.”       (The Age 25/9/12)

“Julie Edwardson, who sang with Opera Australia for a decade before moving into directing, regularly stages operas cut-down to an hour (”no boring bits!”) in Melbourne venues such as pubs and bowling clubs. Her Emotionworks ”cut operas” incorporate blues, jazz and gospel as well as opera singers and music. ”We take the elitism out of opera,” Edwardson says. ”What I’m on about is entertaining people rather than taking an historical approach, presenting operas as they first were when written and produced.” Cross-over audiences including opera lovers and ”grunge pub regulars” are attending in droves, she says, to the point where her ambition is to take the initiative to festivals around the world. “(Sydney Morning Herald 3/11/11)

“JULIE Edwardson is a professional opera director but her passion is what  she  calls ”opera at the lowest level”. This involves cutting classic works down to  about an hour and mixing in other music styles such as jazz, gospel and  blues.

”I love it that some people will hate it because it is so sacrilegious,”  she says. ”We are really poking fun at the elitism of opera by going to the  other extreme and promising there will be no boring bits. But everything we do  is done with integrity and our bottom line is to entertain people.” (The Age 29/3/11)

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“St Kilda opera director  Julie Edwardson  is turning the traditional artform of opera upside down.

IN my early 20s, I sang jazz and was interested in improvisation and scat singing. I started classical lessons because I wanted to improve my range. My teacher said, ‘‘You’ve got operatic potential.’’ By the time I was 26, I was a young artist with the Victorian State Opera.

I now have my own company, Emotionworks, which has produced a series of shortened, modernised operas, called Cut Opera. It’s non-funded so it’s all on the cheap, but for me it’s a way of developing this idea of mixing up styles of music.” (Melbourne Weekly 30/5

In Australia, Julie Edwardson is also taking opera out of the opera house and into pubs and bowling clubs. Her Melbourne-based company Emotionworks Cut Opera presents reduced, contemporised versions of popular operas, which are sung in English and incorporate other musical styles including jazz and blues numbers into the score. In November Emotionworks had a weekend festival at St Kilda Bowling Club presenting four operas, all cut-down classics: The Magic Flute, Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, Handel’s Alcina and Carmen.

In the middle of this year, Edwardson will stage a new version of La Traviata and there is the possibility, not yet confirmed, of a Tosca featuring only four singers (interestingly, Spreadbury-Maher has plans for a similarly pared-back version for Malmo Opera in Sweden). Time permitting, Edwardson is also contemplating a one-hour version of Wagner’s 15-hour Ring Cycle. That would be staged — when and where else? — in Melbourne next year at the same time as Opera Australia’s Ring Cycle. In a sign of the times, the idea has the blessing of OA artistic director Lyndon Terracini.

For Edwardson, the length of many operas is an issue in this day and age. “I must say I find [when] sitting through a four-hour opera I will very rarely stay for the whole thing. I do love it but I sit there thinking, ‘gee it would be good if this bit was cut’.”

Cutting is something at which Edwardson has become adept, having formed Emotionworks around a decade ago. “The term ‘cut opera’ refers both to cutting things down but also cutting in other music as well, mixing it up,” she says. Though purists might find her approach sacrilegious, Edwardson loves opera and has a long working knowledge of it. She started out singing jazz then joined OA’s young artists’ program and sang with the company as a principal artist for six years before becoming a resident director with the company.

She left OA to form Emotionworks but still directs mainstage opera. Last year, she won a Green Room Award for her OA production of Bellini’s La Sonnambula. This year she is rehearsal director of Baz Luhrmann’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for OA in Brisbane (its first season there for 24 years) and John Copley’s Lucia di Lammermoor for WAO.

Edwardson’s moment of inspiration for cut opera came when she was working as assistant director to Barrie Kosky on an OA production of Wozzeck that ran 90 minutes without interval. “I remember thinking this was the perfect length for opera or theatre. We live in a TV and filmic age and people’s concentrations are geared to that. Unless we change, opera will die because of the way technology is now and the way our brains work,” Edwardson says. “Gen Y have been brought up on videos and computer games. Everything is fast moving and highly edited so part of the idea of cut opera is to try to appeal to that young audience and that mindset and sensibility.”

Emotionworks productions have included Handel’s Alcina, staged as a burlesque with jazz classics cut in throughout performed by a jazz combo, piano accordion and flute, and Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which turns into a Star Wars spoof.

Emotionworks productions are becoming more and more cross-genre musically, but Edwardson denies this is dumbing down. “There are some jazz songs that are more complex in their modulations, chords and key changes than a lot of opera so these other styles of music mix in really well. I wouldn’t put in a pop song; there’s always a sophistication to the contemporary music that I use.”

She casts opera singers in the lead roles and contemporary singers in the smaller parts and is not averse to changing keys for them if necessary. “That’s what composers did in the day anyway,” she says. “Everything has become so rigid now musically. There is still this mindset out there that it’s OK to be radical with the production but when it comes to the music you’ve got to stay true to it and I’m fighting that.”

Opera can be expensive, so price is always an issue. Tickets for the opera on Sydney Harbour range from $85 to $350 though the average ticket price at VO last year was about $60 while tickets for Emotionworks productions can cost as little as $10. People will pay big bucks for shows they really want to see whether it be Andre Rieu or pop concerts but getting them to fork out for things they don’t know is infinitely harder — and new opera rates high on that scale.