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"Opera opens up a window to the marvellous. It explains life to us." - Richard Mills


Published: 09/06/2022 10:22am

 As the 2022 Festival chugs along nicely and we have already seen so many young performers get back on the stage, we can’t quite believe it’s already time for our Principle events to start rolling around!

Tonight, June 10 is our Choral Championships at The Concourse and in a few short weeks we can welcome our Classical Singing finalists back to the stage for our Opera Scholarship Final!

After 2 years of cancellations, our prestigious Opera Scholarship Final event will take place on:

Sunday, June 26, 2pm
at the Concourse Concert Hall, Chatswood.

The afternoon will feature 8 of Australia & New Zealand's most talented young Opera Singers, vying for part of a scholarship prize package worth over $61,000!

This event, originally known as The Sun Aria, was established with the first City of Sydney Eisteddfod in 1933 to discover fine voices throughout Australia and New Zealand. 

This year we are very proud to partner with the:

Willoughby Symphony Orchestra, who will accompany the finalists
under the baton of Maestro Dr Nicholas Milton. 

Sydney Eisteddfod caught up with our dedicated and very impressive group adjudicators for the event, Christine Douglas, Stuart Maunder and special guest judge for the afternoon, Richard Mills.

 We asked them all about what they expect to see on the night, for advice for our Finalists, the Opera landscape today for both singer and audience and finally, where Sydney Eisteddfod fits within that landscape.

Christine Douglas 
Douglas Christine 2014

1.              Christine, your distinguished career has seen you explore operatic training best practice across Australia, the UK and the US. What do you think is the most important aspect or aspects of a young opera singers training? 

 Achieving a sound technique based on a thorough, anatomically based understanding of the singer’s instrument is key. Breath work is an essential part of that training and most technical difficulties experienced during the singer’s journey will find their basis in misunderstood breath support. 

 Second to that, learning how to learn and memorize.  

Third, exploration of the text and understanding your character’s journey. 

2.              The last time you adjudicated for SE was back in 2014. Are you looking for anything different this time around? 

 2014 feels like a lifetime ago! I’m still looking for the essential basics in competitors, control over breath, pitch, intonation, convincing use of language, beauty of tone and crucially, the ability to get inside the emotions and point of view of the character. I’m looking for informed interpretation which allows the singer to transcend themselves onstage. 

3.              What advice would you give to these performers after having has such a hard few years with a lack of performance opportunities?  

It’s been tough, really tough. We singers have felt outcast during Covid, no gigs, unwanted. But you can’t keep something as essentially human as singing down.

 My advice to young singers is to get not only arias but full roles learnt in the downtimes. With the expert advice of teachers or coaches, choose a role you may sing in the early part of your career and nail it in the original language. Use any opportunity to sing excerpts from that role whether it’s an aria, ensemble or chorus. 

Then move on to another one. 

4.              Do you see the Operatic world to have changed somewhat over the course of your career? How so? And how would you advise our young Finalists to navigate the current industry? 

Yes, the operatic world has changed. There are fewer opportunities in a shrinking sector. Musicals have made their way into Opera Houses. Managements have decided that the more commercial the show, the greater the box office revenue and that is probably true. 

I would advise young classical singers to be versatile. Singing on a cruise is just as valid as singing at The Opera House. Singers must sing! Take the initiative, organise gigs with friends, create your own co-op but above all, keep singing. You may not have the traditional career which some of us were lucky enough to have but there are so many possibilities online and of course, overseas. 

5.              Finally, how important do you think events and scholarships like the Sydney Eisteddfod are for young performers? 

Eisteddfods and other similar competitions give important opportunities to young classical singers. Whether that is simply performing to get the nerves under control prior to a live singing exam or to kickstart a career.

Eisteddfods provide and have provided for decades, an important and formative experience for so many Australian singers. 

Richard Mills 

1.              Richard, you are one of Australia’s most sought after composers and music directors. How do these more modern operas contribute to the changing face of Opera? How do you see the modern audience consuming or reacting to contemporary works? Is the tastes of Australian audiences changing? 

Opera opens up a window to the marvellous.
 It explains life to us. 

A great work, whenever it was written will tell us something deep of what it is to be human through the power of magic and the fusion of music and text.  

Any work has a power to speak to us. It is not about the work being recent. It is about the content of the work and its ability to touch the audience.  

I believe the demographic mix of our cities is changing, not necessarily ours tastes as audiences.  
Part of my job is to embrace this change. We are now seeing operas by Indian & Chinese composers as well as Australian and US first nations people. 

These diverse cultural communities provide a fertile body of inspiration for any composer.  

By the same token, it would be foolish to assume we now only have to do “ethic” opera.  
Our appetites as audiences are open to anything that makes us truly feel.  

2.              How significant is it that these Finalists perform with the accompaniment of a full orchestra? How does an experience like this help young performers in their emerging career? 

Singing with an orchestra is a specialised art. These finalists have a wonderful opportunity and it is as exciting for them as it is for us to watch.  

3.              As a judge coming in only at the Finals, you are in a unique position to view these performances without any prior judgement or preconceived ideas. What do you hope to see from the 8 Finalist? What elements are you looking for to select the winner? 

I am looking for good diction, the responsiveness and control of your vocal instrument, and an indefinable quality. 

Once you see that spark that is brought by the performer you take the technical side for granted.   

4.              I see you are retiring from Victorian Opera in 2023. What plans do you have for the future? 

No I don’t! 
I have so much work that I haven’t had time to plan.  
I have certain projects in the pipe-line but the main thing is to get this year organised.  
You can never plan too far ahead in this climate You just never know.  

Stuart Maunder AM 
State Opera of South Australia Stuart Maunder

1.              Being an adjudicator is a commitment. Why have you chosen to commit your time to this event? And what do you take out if it?  

I love working with young singers, and I love seeing where young singers are now, who is up-and-coming, how people have developed. The Eisteddfod provides a great chance to check-in with where people are.

Everybody is there.  

2.              This event sees the best of the young opera talent from Australia & New Zealand. After having worked with NZ Opera from 2014- 2018, and now back in Australia as the Artistic Director of SA Opera, do you see a rivalry between the 2 countries opera communities? Or a sense of comradery? 

 Ha! There will always be rivalry, that’s the way the New Zealanders are hard-wired. No, just kidding! There is a great camaraderie between the countries. Australia has always embraced our friend from ‘Cross the Tasman’.  

3.              You yourself are a member of Sydney Eisteddfod. Why have you chosen to support and shape this organisation in this way and what importance do you think it holds?  

"I think I’ve been put on earth to fly the flag for Gilbert and Sullivan. They are a major part of our cultural Heritage. It’s the perfect repertoire for young classical singers; challenging, achievable and fun.
won the award back in the late 70’s, it’s only fair I give back! "

4.              How important do you think, is an international education or experience to young opera professionals?   

These days it seems to be imperative! But getting a job is about fronting up in an audition and wowing the panel. Few look at the qualifications. It helps in getting your name ‘out there’ building your contacts in a new market.  

5.              What differences can you see coming from the young talent that comes out of Australia and NZ when compared to say Europe or the UK? 

I don’t believe there are any differences… talent wins out wherever. The reality is we have fewer tertiary opportunities… but talent will always rise. Can’t help it.  



Adult: $35
Concession: $30
Child: $20

We are also delighted to announce that Sydney Eisteddfod are partnering with

The Australian Digital Concert Hall in 2022 and will be broadcasting the Choral Championship Finals. 

Should you, for whatever reason, be unable to attend the finals in person, you may purchase a ticket for $24 at the link below:

This ticket entitles the holder to watch the event live and provides access to the footage for 72 hours from the morning after the event.

This event NEVER fails to surprise and delight.
We hope to see you all there!


For more of your Opera fix please come to watch the Opera Scholarship SEMI FINALS on
Sunday 12 June at the Zenith Theatre from 3pm. 

Tickets available on the door.  - Adult $25, Concession $25, Youth $10

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