The free operatic event, which attracts more than 20,000 people each year, will return to Perth’s Supreme Court Gardens on Saturday, February 22.
This year’s event will showcase the children’s classic, Hansel and Gretel.
West Australian Opera has collaborated with eminent visual artist Sohan Ariel Hayes, who will transform the gardens into a dark forest using projection, light and image to make a truly immersive operatic experience.
The audience will join Hansel and Gretel on their journey as they leave the warmth of home and enter the alluring dark forest where freedom soon turns to fear as the pair become hopelessly lost.
A tasty gingerbread house and witches’ trickery follow in this cautionary tale about stranger danger.
Sung by an extraordinary West Australian Opera cast with the full might of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Chris van Tuinen, the opera promises to be a delight for the ears and eyes alike.
Italo-Australian soprano Pia Harris will make her West Australian Opera lead role debut on the evening, playing Gretel.
The stunning singer was born and raised in Perth, with Sicilian blood running through her veins: her maternal nonno immigrated to Perth from Raccuia 1936, while her nonna immigrated from Patti, around 45 kilometres north-east, in 1947.
“My grandparents both spoke English but they also spoke Italian and Sicilian to us,” she said.
“We were definitely immersed in the culture and my grandmother cooked all the time.
“We still make her meals today, like her signature tuna and onion pasta.”
While Harris inherited her passion for food from her nonna, her love of opera comes from her nonno, who was also a gifted singer.
“He wasn’t formally trained but he used to spend all of his money watching the operas in Palermo,” she explained.
“He was heard by some scouts from Milan, but his family weren’t open to him moving there to study.
“He used to sing at the [WA] Italian Club here in Perth, and we grew up with opera in the home.”
One of six granddaughters, Harris was always a star in her nonno’s eyes.
When she was just three years old, her nonno pointed her out and decidedly declared: “That’s the one with the voice.”
Those six words turned out to be a prophesy: Harris has been performing professionally for 10 years now, gracing the stages of iconic theatres from Carnegie Hall to Royal Albert Hall, Symphony Space on Broadway and the Sydney Opera House.
Despite her long list of roles, this is the first time Harris has portrayed a child.
“We’re so used to playing adults in this industry and it’s really exciting to be playing a child,” she said.
Aside from her usual system for getting into character, Harris will take a slightly unconventional approach to learning this role.
“I’m very lucky because my niece and nephew are living with me at the moment, so I can learn from them,” she chuckled.
“I’m really working on the physicality, because I think that’s going to be the key.
“The sudden change of mood is also very indicative of a child and I’m going to make sure that’s really clear and pronounced.”
A more familiar aspect of the production to Harris is its immersive nature, which strays from the usual concert experience of the annual event.
“I love immersive work because it really draws the audience in and it’s much more engaging,” she said.
“The audience really feel like they’re a part of it and they’re transported to that world.
As for the opera itself, does Harris believe Hansel and Gretel is a children’s fable or dark horror story?
“It depends on how it’s played,” she reasoned.
“If it’s played straight, the witch can be very scary because she’s talking about fattening up Hansel and putting Gretel in the oven to eat her up!
“But whether dark or comical, I still think it’s a very powerful opera.”
Those brave enough to see for themselves will be blown away by a mesmerising performance in a spectacular setting.
For more information, visit West Australian Opera’s website.