Adelaide Festival and State Opera South Australia announced the return of iconic Canadian artist Robert Lepage with his most joyous masterwork, Igor Stravinsky’s The Nightingale and Other Fables. The opera, which is an international co-production between Opera national de Lyon, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Canadian Opera Company, Dutch National Opera in collaboration with Ex Machina, forms the dazzling centrepiece of the 2024 Adelaide Festival.
Returning to Adelaide Festival for the first time since 2018, when The Far Side of the Moon sold out in a matter of weeks, Lepage again brings a work that is inventive and profoundly original. The production, hailed as “nothing short of brilliant” by Opera (UK), has already been rapturously received in Aix-en-Provence, Toronto, New York and Amsterdam.
Stravinsky’s first opera, The Nightingale, was written between 1908-13 during the composer’s Russian period, at the same time as he was working on some of his greatest masterpieces, such as The Firebird and The Rite of Spring. Inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, this enchanting work is blended with Russian fables and musical influences from Asia, Europe and early jazz from America.
Stories unfurl through acrobatic shadow play and Taiwanese hand puppets, before moving on to the ancient art of Vietnamese water puppetry (seen at Adelaide Festival in 1988 and 1994) for the spectacular telling of The Nightingale, set on a beautiful lake created in the orchestra pit of the theatre.
The 34-member State Opera South Australia chorus will join the outstanding international cast of sought-after soloists including Grammy Award winner contralto Meredith Arwady who reprises the role of Death, award winning Ukrainian bass Taras Berezhansky, tenors Andrew Goodwin (Australia) and Owen McCausland(Canada), together with rising star soprano Yuliia Zasimova (Ukraine). Joining them are a brilliant troupe of Canadian acrobats/puppeteers who have been with the production since it premiered in 2010.
Speaking from Canada, director Robert Lepage said: “I am thrilled to be coming back to the Adelaide Festival with an opera production that means so much to me. It is a true joy to deconstruct a work and explore the boundless potential of opera. The Nightingale and Other Fables weaves together the crafts of singing, music, puppetry, dance, acting, mime, architecture, and literature – it has it all and I very much look forward to bringing the work to Australian audiences.”
Artistic Director Ruth Mackenzie said: “The Nightingale and Other Fables is a production which has an instant appeal to young audiences and opera first-timers, as well as seasoned opera lovers. I am so happy to be working with Robert Lepage, with whom I have collaborated with many times over the last 30 years. He will be working with a global team, which includes Argentinian conductor Alejo Pérez, American puppet designer Michael Curry, Canadian set designer Carl Fillion, together with a cast of 17 international singers, puppeteers and acrobats from all over the world who will join South Australia’s own Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and State Opera South Australia.”
Minister for Arts Andrea Michaels said: “This highly anticipated production will not only attract interstate and international audiences, but also presents an extraordinary platform for South Australian artists to share the stage with performers from around the globe. This will truly be an unforgettable experience for all.”
Chief Executive of Adelaide Festival Kath Mainland said: “It’s wonderful to have this extraordinary work by Robert Lepage as the opera centrepiece of AF24, cementing the Adelaide Festival as the international festival in Australia.”
The Nightingale and Other Fables will play at the Adelaide Festival Theatre from 1-6 March 2024. The full 2024 Adelaide Festival program will be launched on 24 October.