Victorian Seniors Festival Reimagined 2020: Professor Deborah Cheetham AO

Tristan Meecham

Our next guest on In The Groove is an absolutely phenomenal opera singer. She's a proud Wuta Wuta woman, whose work has encompassed many, many regions throughout Victoria. She runs Short Black Opera. She's sung on world stages - an absolute class act. Could you introduce yourself to our wonderful audience?

Deborah Cheetham

I'm Deborah Cheetham and I'm artistic director of Short Black Opera Company. I'm also a Professor of Music, here at Monash University, where I'm recording this interview today. I firstly need to pay my deepest respects to the people of the Wurundjeri, on whose land I work and draw energy and inspiration each and every time I come onto this campus at Clayton but I also would like to pay my respects to the people of the Boon wurrung. This is the country that I live on and the energy of the Boon wurrung has sustained my artistic practice for well ever since I moved to Melbourne, which is almost 15 years ago. Now. Finally, I want to pay my respects to my mother and my grandmother who were your Wuta Wuta women.

Tristan Meecham

And tell us a little bit about your love for the art of opera

Deborah Cheetham

About 10 years ago or a little bit longer, I started having a conversation about what indigenous opera could sound like in Australia and some people struggled to imagine it but I had a very clear vision of what indigenous opera could be. I've had a long love affair with opera, ever since I was a school girl and was introduced to my very first opera, Dame Joan Sutherland in the Merry Widow, concert hall of the Sydney Opera House row L seat number 23 and I was sitting next to my lifelong mentor and music teacher, Jennifer King. Right from that very first moment that I encountered opera, I knew that this was something that was part of my DNA. How so? Well, opera is no stranger to the indigenous nations of this land. We've been singing our stories for something like 2000 generations. So, I feel like my long relationship with opera. It was it was meant to be.

Tristan Meecham

This week is actually themed around the theme of pride and hope. You mentioned you're a proud Wuta Wuta woman and you've spent a lot of time working with First Nation artists with your company Short Black Opera. Why is it so important to cultivate First Nation artists in the art of opera?

Deborah Cheetham

Opera is such a fabulous medium for telling the really big and important stories and we've seen that throughout its western history of the last 300 or so years. 12 years ago, I felt that there just hadn't been enough done to provide opportunities for indigenous singers who wished to pursue a career in the world of opera. I was, at the time, Australia's only indigenous opera singer working professionally and that's just - you can't call that under-representation. That's just ridiculous, really. I felt that we, as indigenous nations, have such a strong connection to the sung story and to music and to the arts, more generally. Opera brings all of the arts together and it was, for me, a really obvious relationship between indigenous culture and opera. So, I formed the Short Black Opera Company. We have been developing, not only singers, but also musicians, more recently.

Tristan Meecham

Particularly in relation to Dhungala Children Choir, how does that project - that choir - that group of young First Nation, vital members fill you with pride?

Deborah Cheetham

Do you know, I often say that Dhungala Children's Choir, they’re our reason for getting up in the morning. There are two choirs. One is based on Wuta Wuta country up in Shepparton and the other is based in Geelong, down on Wathaurong country and, just this weekend, you'll be interested to know, they came together for a Zoom choir. We put together a brand new song that is one of the numbers from a children's opera I'm writing, actually. I'm doing that in collaboration with the wonderful Jessica Hitchcock and my beautiful partner, Toni Lalich.

Tristan Meecham

Speaking of your wonderful partner, the amazing pianist and musician, Toni Lalich. You both collaborate often together. What is it like to collaborate with your beloved?

Deborah Cheetham

Like any partnership where there's sort of no 5pm?

Tristan Meecham

Yep, yep, yep. [laughter]

Deborah Cheetham

Yeah, there's no nine to five existence for our little opera company. So, sometimes we're ready to … yeah [laughter].

Tristan Meecham

Yeah, I understand [laughter].

Deborah Cheetham

We're ready to just have some time alone in our own isolation. For the most part, I am so very fortunate to have such a gifted pianist as my partner in music and in life.

Tristan Meecham

Could you introduce the song that you are going to sing for this wonderful episode of in the groove?

Deborah Cheetham

I thought that I really couldn't go past vissi d’arte because it really is one of, I think, the most quintessential roles for any soprano in the Rismo style, the role of Tosca and, as she sings about her absolute dedication to art and she asks her creator “why have you abandoned me in this great time of need?” I think it's really pertinent to what has happened for our industry, Tristan, you know, so many people from across every area of society, no one has been left untouched by the situation we're in.

[Deborah singing opera]

" />

Professor Deborah Cheetham AO, a Yorta Yorta woman and pioneer of the operatic arts in Australia, has created an invaluable legacy of Indigenous performers.

Visit Professor Deborah Cheetham AO's website: https://www.shortblackopera.org.au/

Read her Performer Profile

 

While we kindly encourage you to submit your comments, thoughts and experiences below or on our Facebook, we expect that users will not post content that falls into the following categories and reserve the right to remove comments that are:

•            off-topic and not appropriate for discussion in this forum

•            in violation of another’s privacy

•            vexatious, fraudulent, deceptive or misleading

•            abusive, defamatory, threatening, harassing, discriminatory or otherwise offensive

•            of a political nature or promote particular services, products, or political organisations

•            illegal or advocates illegal activity

•            in violation of another’s intellectual property or infringe upon copyrights or trademarks.

An online Festival is completely new for us and we hope you enjoy the performances.

Victorian Seniors Festival Reimagined 2020: Professor Deborah Cheetham AO

Tristan Meecham

Our next guest on In The Groove is an absolutely phenomenal opera singer. She's a proud Wuta Wuta woman, whose work has encompassed many, many regions throughout Victoria. She runs Short Black Opera. She's sung on world stages - an absolute class act. Could you introduce yourself to our wonderful audience?

Deborah Cheetham

I'm Deborah Cheetham and I'm artistic director of Short Black Opera Company. I'm also a Professor of Music, here at Monash University, where I'm recording this interview today. I firstly need to pay my deepest respects to the people of the Wurundjeri, on whose land I work and draw energy and inspiration each and every time I come onto this campus at Clayton but I also would like to pay my respects to the people of the Boon wurrung. This is the country that I live on and the energy of the Boon wurrung has sustained my artistic practice for well ever since I moved to Melbourne, which is almost 15 years ago. Now. Finally, I want to pay my respects to my mother and my grandmother who were your Wuta Wuta women.

Tristan Meecham

And tell us a little bit about your love for the art of opera

Deborah Cheetham

About 10 years ago or a little bit longer, I started having a conversation about what indigenous opera could sound like in Australia and some people struggled to imagine it but I had a very clear vision of what indigenous opera could be. I've had a long love affair with opera, ever since I was a school girl and was introduced to my very first opera, Dame Joan Sutherland in the Merry Widow, concert hall of the Sydney Opera House row L seat number 23 and I was sitting next to my lifelong mentor and music teacher, Jennifer King. Right from that very first moment that I encountered opera, I knew that this was something that was part of my DNA. How so? Well, opera is no stranger to the indigenous nations of this land. We've been singing our stories for something like 2000 generations. So, I feel like my long relationship with opera. It was it was meant to be.

Tristan Meecham

This week is actually themed around the theme of pride and hope. You mentioned you're a proud Wuta Wuta woman and you've spent a lot of time working with First Nation artists with your company Short Black Opera. Why is it so important to cultivate First Nation artists in the art of opera?

Deborah Cheetham

Opera is such a fabulous medium for telling the really big and important stories and we've seen that throughout its western history of the last 300 or so years. 12 years ago, I felt that there just hadn't been enough done to provide opportunities for indigenous singers who wished to pursue a career in the world of opera. I was, at the time, Australia's only indigenous opera singer working professionally and that's just - you can't call that under-representation. That's just ridiculous, really. I felt that we, as indigenous nations, have such a strong connection to the sung story and to music and to the arts, more generally. Opera brings all of the arts together and it was, for me, a really obvious relationship between indigenous culture and opera. So, I formed the Short Black Opera Company. We have been developing, not only singers, but also musicians, more recently.

Tristan Meecham

Particularly in relation to Dhungala Children Choir, how does that project - that choir - that group of young First Nation, vital members fill you with pride?

Deborah Cheetham

Do you know, I often say that Dhungala Children's Choir, they’re our reason for getting up in the morning. There are two choirs. One is based on Wuta Wuta country up in Shepparton and the other is based in Geelong, down on Wathaurong country and, just this weekend, you'll be interested to know, they came together for a Zoom choir. We put together a brand new song that is one of the numbers from a children's opera I'm writing, actually. I'm doing that in collaboration with the wonderful Jessica Hitchcock and my beautiful partner, Toni Lalich.

Tristan Meecham

Speaking of your wonderful partner, the amazing pianist and musician, Toni Lalich. You both collaborate often together. What is it like to collaborate with your beloved?

Deborah Cheetham

Like any partnership where there's sort of no 5pm?

Tristan Meecham

Yep, yep, yep. [laughter]

Deborah Cheetham

Yeah, there's no nine to five existence for our little opera company. So, sometimes we're ready to … yeah [laughter].

Tristan Meecham

Yeah, I understand [laughter].

Deborah Cheetham

We're ready to just have some time alone in our own isolation. For the most part, I am so very fortunate to have such a gifted pianist as my partner in music and in life.

Tristan Meecham

Could you introduce the song that you are going to sing for this wonderful episode of in the groove?

Deborah Cheetham

I thought that I really couldn't go past vissi d’arte because it really is one of, I think, the most quintessential roles for any soprano in the Rismo style, the role of Tosca and, as she sings about her absolute dedication to art and she asks her creator “why have you abandoned me in this great time of need?” I think it's really pertinent to what has happened for our industry, Tristan, you know, so many people from across every area of society, no one has been left untouched by the situation we're in.

[Deborah singing opera]