No need to dress up: Sydney Chamber Opera makes the art form accessible

Sydney Chamber Opera are preparing to present the world premiere of In The Penal Colony by Philip Glass at the Parade Playhouse in Kensington this weekend. Even if opera isn’t your bag, it’s worth a look – these guys are doing their utmost to make the art form accessible to the everyman, as Matthew Backer reports…

Louis Garrick
Sydney Chamber Opera's Artistic Director Louis Garrick. Image by Anja Emzén

One could say Louis Garrick owes his current cultural endeavour to two things: an old Uni job and a 19th Century German composer.

As the Artistic Director of the Sydney Chamber Opera, Louis first became interested in opera whilst studying Musicology at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

“I came across the great composer Richard Wagner and his works were so massive and complex that I just got sucked in from there,” he said.

“I also had a Uni job like most students have to have and was operating the opera surtitles at the Opera House so I started seeing performances from that world.”

Fast forward just over two years and the Sydney Chamber Opera (SCO), is about to stage its latest production, the Australian premiere of Philip Glass’ In The Penal Colony.

A distinct gap in the ‘opera market’ saw Louis and current SCO Music Director, Jack Symonds, found the company as “Sydney’s home for contemporary chamber opera”.

“There are really only two major opera producers in Australia and no one was making small-scale, contemporary operas,” Louis said.

“The only operas that were around always felt like huge, massive events you had to get dressed up for.

In the penal Colony
In The Penal Colony. Image by Louis Dillon-Savage

“There are a lot of barriers for young people when they think about ‘a night at the opera’ as it does have that perception of being boring and stuffy with bad acting.

“We are consciously trying to mould ourselves as an antithesis to all of those things.”

The SCO is achieving that goal by employing “exciting, younger directors and designers to create innovative theatre with repertoire that is theatrically interesting”.

Aside from being an Australian premiere, In The Penal Colony, opening this week at the Parade Playhouse, will also be the first Philip Glass opera to be performed in Sydney.

[pull_right]There are a lot of barriers for young people when they think about ‘a night at the opera’…we are consciously trying to mould ourselves as an antithesis to all of those things[/pull_right]

Glass, the pioneering American minimalist composer, who celebrates his 75th birthday this year, set Franz Kafka’s nightmarish short story of the same name to music in 2000.

The production is directed by the current Sydney Theatre Company Richard Wherrett Fellow Imara Savage.

Louis described In The Penal Colony as “surreal” but, more importantly for opera newbies, “accessible”.

“Most productions we tend to do are at shorter lengths and add that to our cheaper ticket prices, the whole experience is a much more accessible night at the theatre than a night at the ‘opera’,” he said.

“No need to get dressed up for us.”

In The Penal Colony

An opera by Philip Glass

Libretto by Rudolph Wurlitzer
Based on the original story by Franz Kafka

Conductor: Huw Belling
Director: Imara Savage

With: Paul Goodwin-Groen, Pascal Herington, Anthony Hunt and chamber ensemble.

The Parade Playhouse/Parade Theatres/Anzac Parade, Kensington

April 7, 9, 11, 13 & 14 – 7.30pm

Tickets: $30/60

Book tickets here

For more information, visit

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Matthew graduated from the University of QLD with a Bachelor of Journalism degree in 2005, later completing his cadetship on The Fraser Coast Chronicle newspaper in 2006. Matthew went on to graduate from NIDA with a Bachelor of Dramatic Art Acting in 2010. Upon graduating, he appeared in Private View which toured to Melbourne's Theatre Works in early 2011. Matthew’s main stage debut was playing Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys throughout 2011. He’ll next be seen in the new Aussie app series, Surry, set to go live in early 2012.

Matthew has written 7 articles on AussieTheatre | Read more articles by

Follow Matthew: @matthewbacker