Musicians, dancers, fire twirlers, acrobats and more… This weekend’s show at The Concourse is set to blow you away. Created by locals, performed by locals, and with funds from the show going towards a uniquely local cause – you’ll want to book a front-row seat for The Carnival.
One of the most in-demand composers of her generation, Chloé Charody, has just arrived home to Australia and is already in raptures about being surrounded by the smells, sights and sounds of her childhood home in Castlecrag. Her home base in Berlin, is, by comparison, “a little grey,” she admits. “Every time I get off the plane I look up at the sky. The blueness of the Australian sky is like nowhere else in the world; it’s a piercing blue that you never see in Europe. I love that about coming home.”
Likewise, Germany-based soprano, Valda Wilson, born and bred in Castlecrag (where her parents still reside), is enjoying spending summer in Sydney, performing the title role in Pinchgut Opera’s production of Theodora. Says Valda, “I love coming back here for the bushland. The trees are just so different in Australia – I could stare at them for ages. I love taking our family dog on the bush tracks around Harold Reid Reserve. It’s amazing to do that right beside your home.”
Valda Wilson (l) and Chloé Charody (r) photographed at The Haven Amphitheatre in Castlecrag. Photo: Simon Ward Images
Two women – childhood friends with the same piano teacher – returning home for some Sydney summer. But Chloé and Valda are not your average expats; they are highly renowned in their respective worlds of composition and opera, both at the top of their craft and in demand from productions around the world.
This coming weekend, over two days and three performances at The Concourse in Chatswood, the pair will present The Carnival – a circus opera composed by Chloé, in which Valda will play the lead soprano role. Described as ‘Tim Burton meets Bizet’, the show is a fusion of musicians, dancers, fire twirlers, aerial artists and other performers. Chloé composed the score in 2007 along with Killara-born Sonja Schebeck, who combines her talents as a virtuoso violinist with those of fire artistry. Says Chloé of her co-composer, “I don’t think anyone in the world can play better than Sonja – it’s not physically possible. She’s able to do a full somersault as she plays. And she breathes fire!”
According to Chloé, “The first thing I do when I meet with a theatre production team is ask them what I can’t do. It’s all about the approach; I like to massage the boundaries. The team at The Concourse are being super positive. I mean, Valda will have a ring of fire ignited around her at the show’s finale! And they’re cool with it.”
The Carnival debuted on London’s West End in 2011 and has gone on to acclaimed, sell-out performances across the globe. But bringing the show home to Sydney’s North Shore is particularly poignant for these inspiring women. Net proceeds from the show will go to a cause close to both their hearts – the restoration of the stage at The Haven Amphitheatre in Castlecrag, where they both cut their teeth as young performers.
The Haven sits in a small gully at the corner of The Barricade and the Scarp in Castlecrag. It was conceived and created in the 1930s by renowned architect, Walter Burley Griffin, who also famously left his imprint on many houses he designed in the suburb. Burley Griffin and his wife, Marion, considered theatre to be a powerful community building tool, and their vision was to bring amateur and professional performances to life in the beautiful water-facing bush setting. After the Burley Griffin’s involvement ended (Walter died in 1937 and Marion moved to the USA, eventually transferring title for The Haven Amphitheatre to Willoughby Council) the theatre was abandoned and the site became an overgrown dump for building and other waste. Since it was ‘rediscovered’ by local residents in 1975, however, The Haven Amphitheatre has undergone several redesigns and rebuilds and enjoyed a flourishing performance record. Hundreds of plays, concerts, dinner cabarets, shows and other events have been enjoyed by tens of thousands of patrons from all over the world.
Scenes from performances at The Haven Amphitheatre.
The Haven is owned by Willoughby City Council, and for the last 40 years has been maintained, managed and operated by a committee of local residents, most with professional performing arts experience. But The Haven is now in need of a new stage and is no longer functioning as a performance space.
Marlene Vaughan, committee member and spokesperson for both The Haven Amphitheatre and Haven Productions, is thrilled with the staging of The Carnival in support of this local cause. “The Carnival circus opera at The Concourse is the perfect start to the community’s fundraising effort for a new stage at Willoughby’s Haven Amphitheatre. All community stakeholder groups are right behind the new stage and The Carnival fundraising efforts. Perhaps the most exciting aspect is that both Chloé Charody, the show’s creator and soprano Valda Wilson, one of the stars of The Carnival, are both enjoying stellar careers in Europe, having started their theatre experience as schoolchildren on the old Haven Amphitheatre stage. It is no wonder that they are keen to return home to help us rebuild this beloved facility.”
As they prepare to hit the stage at The Concourse, the girls are looking forward to being able to perform in front of Sydney locals – most especially their family and friends. “My mum’s happy,” Chloé says. “I’m so used to doing my shows and not recognising a single soul in the theatre, and playing to massive concert halls full of strangers. It will be nice to play in a more intimate environment and look out into the audience and see people like my aunty.”
And, of course, they are relishing being home and spending time in Castlecrag again. “It’s so trendy now. There’s even a hipster café!” laughs Valda.