The Visitors(The Opera) – A Reimagining

The Visitors, taking place on the 26th of January, 1788, is a reimagining of the arrival of the First Fleet from the often unexplored Indigenous perspective. Adapted from a play of the same name by Jane Harrison, this Opera will take you on a powerful and sometimes confronting journey, allowing you to view a key event in Australian history from a perspective you might not have considered.

The narrative follows six Aboriginal Elders and one younger initiate. They are gathered on the shore, awaiting the arrival of the First Fleet into the harbour and are trying to reach a unanimous decision on how they will react. Do these visitors mean harm? Should they be allowed safe passage?

As a complete newcomer to the world of Opera, my expectations entering this show were of curiosity. I anticipated some pleasant music, powerful vocals, and a straightforward narrative.  The Visitors was so much more than this. It is not just a performance but an invitation to listen to often unheard voices, to gain new insights and to consider different perspectives; it was a great privilege to be a part of the audience.

The Visitors

Jane Harrison, the creative force behind the play upon which this show is based, also provided her talents as the librettist for The Visitors. Harrison’s mastery of language and the extraordinary musical expertise of composer Christopher Sainsbury created a wonderful synergy. It’s challenging to find words that truly capture the sheer beauty and power of the music.

I rarely purchase merchandise at shows; however, if there were a CD recording for this performance, I would have bought it in a heartbeat. For now, however, this auditory treasure seems confined to the live performance. Yet this is for the best. To experience The Visitors in person was not just to hear the music but to be fully immersed in a transformative journey.

The music and story were brought to life by an incredible cast of seven performers: Marcus Corowa, Zoy Frangos, Lillian Fromyhr, Jess Hitchcock, Eddie Muliaumaseali’I, Elias Wilson, and Shauntai Sherree Abdul-Rahman. Each member of this ensemble is not only an exceptional vocalist but also a compelling and powerful actor.

They each artfully created a unique and distinct character, each with their own stories to tell and their own unique desires. They didn’t just sing the words; they breathed life into the narratives, crafting real, authentic characters that the audience truly cared for.

I would be remiss not to mention the others involved in bringing The Visitors to life. The set, designed by Richard Roberts, was simple yet incredibly striking, providing a backdrop that allowed the story to unfold with clarity and impact. Combined with expert lighting cues by Rachel Burke, they together created a visual landscape that perfectly suited the narrative.

And I of course, have to mention The Victorian Opera Chamber Orchestra, who provided their musical expertise to bring the show together. I was lucky enough to have a view of the orchestra from the circle, and it was an absolute delight to see their talent and passion live alongside the performance. Every aspect of The Visitors was carefully crafted and expertly put together by a multitude of talented and passionate individuals.

The Visitors ran at the Playhouse for only one weekend. However, I hope this show and this exceptional cast will return for an entire season soon. CEO of Victorian Opera, Elizabeth Hill-Cooper, wrote that The Visitors is “an investment for the future of opera in this country and the telling of a tale from our young history with the insights from the oldest occupants of any land.”

These words hint that this brief stint of The Visitors was merely a prelude to something more enduring. Everyone deserves the opportunity to witness this performance.

This review also appears on It’s On The House, or checkout more reviews at Dark Stories Theatre Reviews.

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