Dirty Apple | Opera Queensland
Left - Jordan Pollard and Milica Ilic. Cover - Kristian Roche, Kiandra Howarth and Jordan Pollard.

Kids these days, with their texting and Tweeting and Facebooking... Too busy on that interweb to discover the finer things in life like opera. But what if you combined the two? A contemporary opera for the iGeneration?

In all reality, few other than the high school groups it is forced upon will see Dirty Apple during its short Brisbane Powerhouse run. Which is a great shame because it has been perfectly pitched, pertinent without pandering, a real work of opera with devastatingly familiar themes for a teenage audience.

Still, the opera subscribers who fill out the theatre won’t be disappointed either. Demographics aside, this is an impressively imagined work. The calibre of young local talent on stage is dazzling and they deserve every encouragement.

The concept seems too contrived to work: Opera Queensland, in collaboration with the Backbone Youth Arts group, the State Government and Griffith University’s Queensland Conservatorium, using a “youth arts process which recognises young people as artists and cultural creators in their own right”. An opera written and performed by young people, for young people, to celebrate the arts as part of the Queensland Music Festival and the State’s Q150 birthday celebrations. But an exhaustive two-year gestation has delivered the worthy vision, and a fully-formed work.

Dirty Apple succeeds because it does nothing by halves. It is not opera-lite, nor a clichéd narrative. A challenging work yet generously accessible musically; characters that ring true even in song, with ambiguous motivations and consequences.

Composer Jonathan Henderson is clearly a prodigious talent. The fifth-year Master of Music degree student has delivered a rich and mature score, attainable for young voices while sampling the gamut of opera forms. Working with librettist Shaun Charles, an experienced playwright who authentically captures the language of the schoolyard while maintaining traditional lyrical structure, and 14 other young musicians the final composition melds perfectly.

The story is the stuff of great opera: treachery and tragedy, with genuine pathos and real wit. A group of four senior students from a Brisbane private school, with typically intertwined love lives, use a website to publicly shame one of their teachers. But the prank quickly gets out of hand and a pact of silence begins to crumble. The story asks questions of new-age social pressure in the school yard, at a time when the nightly news reports of students driven to suicide by cyber bullying. Far from a morality tale, it asks the audience to consider which choices they would make in a situation that, while dramatic, can snowball all-too-easily.

The leads are simply terrific. Conservatorium prefects Jordan Pollard, Milica Ilic and Kiandra Howarth, and Year 11 student Kristian Roche, display a stage poise and vocal range well beyond their years. Ilic though, the Serbian-born fledgling soprano already with an impressive resume of work, was the standout, performing two magnificent arias with complete assurance.

Grown-ups Stephen Beck as the school principal and particularly Hayley Sugars as the scandal-chasing TV reporter are both great on stage, but more importantly have provided mentoring to the baby-faced cast including a dozen-strong chorus. The experience is invaluable, and the enthusiasm is written all over their faces.

Add the young musicians of the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University Orchestra (under the baton of Dane Lam) and the Powerhouse Theatre stage – cleverly designed by Sharka Bosakova to drive the action – radiates talent.

Close the laptop and go and give them the support they deserve.

Opera Queensland
Dirty Apple
by Jonathan Henderson and Shaun Charles

Director Michael Futcher

Venue: Powerhouse Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse
Dates/Times: 18, 20, 21 (11.30am matinee), 22 (6.30pm), 23, 24 and 25 (1.30pm matinee) July, 2009
Tickets: (incl. fees) Adult $38, Concession $33, Side Gallery $28.50, 30 Below/Student $26.50
Bookings: Powertix (07) 3358 8600 or online www.brisbanepowerhouse.org

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