The History of Operatif!

OPERATIF! began, almost by accident in 1994, when soprano Jennifer Parish and baritone Stewart Cameron, teamed with talented colleagues to give a concert at Brisbane’s Old Government House. This was no ordinary concert, but perhaps with an eye to the future, OPERATIF!’s first performance was more an occasion. The heritage venue was a perfect setting for artists donned in beautiful gowns and formal tails. The sumptuous champagne interval offered a chance for the audience to socialise and the event was met at its conclusion with a rousing standing ovation and calls for more of such performances.

With audience enthusiasm for the concert so strong, it was clear that there was demand for high-standard, yet warmly presented performances of this nature and many more followed. In turn there came acclaimed seasons of opera, produced under OPERATIF!’s secondary name, Brisbane City Opera. A cleverly devised, small-scale production of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly was presented in English, allowing audiences to feel acutely the raw emotion of this famous tragic piece. Another tragic masterpiece, Giancarlo Menotti’s ‘The Consul,’ followed. Its subject matter dealt with persecuted people, thwarted by bureaucracy in their efforts to flee to freedom. It made a stunning and resonating statement as the only opera featured in the inaugural Brisbane Festival. Many critics declared it the Festival’s highpoint. A third production, Opera a Passionate Affair, demonstrated

a different genre. It was a compilation of carefully chosen arias and ensembles, interwoven into the wartime memoirs of an elderly English gent. This theatrical/operatic production was totally original, instantly engaging and enthusiastically received. With each of OPERATIF!’s (Brisbane City Opera) productions, critics and audiences alike applauded the new-comer to the field of opera production in Queensland.

Opera productions saw the need to draw on much energy and creativity as many enthusiastic and very talented performers, both singers and instrumentalists, were broughttogether into opera ensembles and specially assembled orchestras. Despite consistently glowing reviews, enthusiastic audiences and a vision to take their compact opera productions all over the state and beyond, OPERATIF! was however. denied the Arts funding vital to the company’s future.  Queensland Arts funding bodies turned their back on the bright young company and the tide of enthusiasm behind them. The clear message was that there would never be a second, small opera company receiving funding assistance in Queensland
Read the Courier Mail opinion piece

Thus it was that the dream of this bright, energetic company to provide low-cost opera productions for everyone to enjoy and performance opportunities for talented local artists

ended. Heartbreaking though it was to be forced to give up the dream, it was impossible to continue to meet the costs of even modest productions.

Thus it was that OPERATIF! returned to their roots and to concerts, performing not only programs of Opera but bringing to the fore again a vast heritage of song. From VienneseOperetta, to Songs from the Shows…they celebrated great vocal composers like Lehar, Romberg, Novello and even Noel Coward. They gave voice again to so many of the marvellous ballads and songs of the War Years upon which so many early Australians and New Zealanders were raised. In earlier times, the seeds of a love of the voice, melody and singing were sown as families and friends gathered about the piano to make music in the home.

Outdoor performances began and attracted hundreds, many hearing Opera for the first time. Glorious voices and melodies were heard from stages in all sorts of atmospheric settings….in the outback, in a rain forest, by the sea, by lakes…and among other special events, there continues today OPERATIF!’s annual ‘Opera in the Amphitheatre’ on the shores of Lake Macdonald in Noosa Botanic Gardens.

Stylish Dinner Shows have proved very popular too, each with a catchy theme…’Dinner at Maxims’… a night of French song, ’Viva Italia’… a menu of pasta and Italian opera and ‘A Night in Vienna’ with operetta and Strauss string waltzes ….are just some of the programs which entertained elegant diners. So creative and enjoyable were these events that the corporate sector soon sought the services of OPERATIF! to create the focal point for their own events…  launches, celebrations, incentive nights, client hosting and special events.

As concerts and special event engagements kept OPERATIF! busy, they also presented the first Opera performance on tiny Norfolk Island, with music-loving holiday makers flying in to enjoy concerts of opera and classics. Yet another success story ensued and the ‘Opera in Paradise’ Festival, now a week-long event, will celebrate its 12th Anniversary in a new location in 2021.

Whilst many would be content with these achievements, there was still another idea to be explored, that of creating opportunities for lovers of music to enjoy their passion whilst traveling with like-minded others. Thus Music- Lovers Tours was conceived and Jennifer and Stewart now create and host their own wonderful tours, each featuring musical highlights. Lovers of music and travel can indulge their passions on high quality, boutique tours which include exciting performances in a variety of hand-picked destinations.

One could say that as an independent arts company, OPERATIF! has been a glowing success. The company is proud to have risen to many challenges over their two decades,‘going solo’ in providing work to talented colleagues and presenting countless wonderful experiences of Opera and Song to appreciative audiences. Sadly in Brisbane, a number of beautiful venues with a strong association with the arts have been either demolished or passed on to government or educational organisations for their exclusive use. These include Customs House, Brisbane City Hall and Old Government House.  Read Frances Whiting article