A golden celebration for a State Opera chorus member

The Italian Girl in Algiers, 1986
A State Opera chorus member, Rodney Kirk, celebrates 50 years with the chorus this month.

Rodney Kirk started singing in the chorus before State Opera formally even existed: funded in 1976, but they had been presenting operas since 1974 under the name of New Opera South Australia, with rehearsals starting in late November 1973.

Rodney has been a part of a staggering 114 productions, and this is his third The Marriage of Figaro. We sat down with him to discuss his time at State Opera over the past 50 years – how things are changed and what has been his favourite memory and achievement.

What drew you to the opera all those years ago, what’s kept you coming back?

How I came to be in the opera chorus is all due to a good friend at the time who was singing with NOSA in 1972-3 and suggested I might like to be part of the coming Festival opera. I contacted the office who said they would call me if I was needed. I heard nothing so my friend said why don’t you come to the first rehearsal tomorrow night. This was sometime late November 1973. I ‘gatecrashed’ the rehearsal and at half time was asked if I had auditioned. I said no. I was asked to sing before the start of the next rehearsal. I have been singing and auditioning since. What started out being a bit of fun became a 50 year passion, just by chance!

Capriccio, 1984

What it’s been like performing over the last 50 years; what changes have you seen?

I have seen many changes over the past 50 years. The standard of the chorus has improved from a rather amateur-semi professional group to what it is today. A very polished professional chorus that is capable of rehearsing and performing an opera in a very short rehearsal period to a very high standard. It is a wonderful group of dedicated singers!

Singing in the chorus is a lot of hard work but also fun working in a team with such good friends! I have also had the opportunity to work and meet with people such as English conductor Sir Jeffrey Tate, composer Sir Michael Tippett and American composer Jake Heggie. Also having lunch in the theatre green room with English actor Patricia Rutledge and Sister Helen Prejean of Deadman Walking fame were pleasant encounters.

And of course not forgetting working with many of our country’s best principal artists. I would particularly like to mention Marilyn Richardson, a wonderful singer/ artist and good friend. I have known her since my first opera. Also John Bolton Wood, a phenomenal talent and humble man!

The company itself has had many changes of General Directors, Head of Music and Chorus since its early beginnings as New Opera South Australia, then State Opera South Australia in 1976. A big thanks to all those tireless lobbyists and Don Dunstan who made it happen.

How does the third season of The Marriage of Figaro compare to the other productions you’ve been a part of?

This current production of The Marriage of Figaro is a masterpiece by Nicolas Cannon and team. It’s so fitting for now and so very funny. I think Mozart would love it! And having the ASO in the pit is the best. We are so spoilt to have them. I can’t think of any past productions that come near this interpretation.

Finally I have to say that it has been a great privilege to sing with such an important and exceptional South Australian opera company and be part of its inception and development.

In the Dome Room, 2017

What’s one of your greatest achievement with State Opera?

My greatest achievement would undoubtedly be learning all three Philip Glass portrait operas. Einstein on the Beach, Akhenaten and Satyagraha in 2014. Learning and memorising these works was very challenging. Singing in Ancient Arcadian, Egyptian, Hebrew and Sanskrit was quite a feat. And Philip Glass has a music language of his own that needs to be mastered.

Tell us your favourite opera memory from the past 50 years.

My favourite opera memory! It’s very hard to pick one. But I think I will say it was my first opera, The Excursions of Mr Broucek to the Moon by Leos Janacek for the 1974 Adelaide Festival. It was the first large Main Stage opera in the very new Festival Theatre and was groundbreaking in its design and use of lasers on stage. It was a very exciting time.


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