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Deborah Cheetham Fraillon AO, A Yorta Yorta / Yuin Woman, Soprano, Composer and Educator

Deborah Cheetham Fraillon AO,

A Yorta Yorta / Yuin woman, soprano, composer and educator has been a leader and pioneer in the Australian arts landscape for more than 25 years. In the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Cheetham was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), for “distinguished service to the performing arts as an opera singer, composer and artistic director, to the development of Indigenous artists, and to innovation in performance”. Deborah is my guest this morning around 8.30 on Big Brekkie.

Parrwang Lifts the Sky, a family friendly opera created by acclaimed Yorta Yorta/Yuin soprano, composer, and artistic director Deborah Cheetham Fraillon AO, will have its world premiere to a live audience from 7 - 8 July at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Playhouse as part of NAIDOC week.

This joyful opera is based on an original story from Wadawurrung Country told to the children of the Wadawurrung by community Elder, the late Uncle David Tournier.

This NAIDOC week season will be the first opportunity for a live audience to see the production after the 2021 Victorian Opera performances were cancelled due to a COVID lockdown.The opera features some of Australia’s finest operatic talent including First Nations Artists Shauntai Sherree, Jessica Hitchcock with Cheetham Fraillon herself and members of the Dhungala Children’s Choir.

Did you know that the Magpies created the first dawn?*

A long time ago…. The sky was a blanket on the land. The earth was in darkness and the people were afraid. It was a very sad state of affairs and would have stayed that way except for the courage of young Parrwang the Magpie.

Tjatja (Jessica Hitchcock) and Koki (Michael Petruccelli) are young, adventurous and tired of living in the dark. When they manage to climb to the highest branches of an ancient gum tree they discover an exciting new world and a steadfast friend in Parrwang - who decides to help the young humans lift the blanket of darkness from the ground.

A plan is devised - but can Parrwang (Rebecca Rashleigh) convince Mr Waa (Eamon Dooley), Bunjil (Adrian Tamburini) and the Great Council of Birds (Dhungala Children’s Choir) to agree?

Composer and Librettist Deborah Cheetham Fraillon AO said Parrwang Lifts the Sky was about the relationship between humans and nature.

"The Parrwang story provides us with a joyful metaphor for life and the quest for knowledge and understanding. It is a celebration of friendship and the courage it takes to speak truth to power" said Cheetham Fraillon.

"I am grateful Aunty Corrina Eccles and the Wadawurrung people who have demonstrated great generosity by sharing this story with me so that it might be shared with children everywhere."

Short Black Opera Company (SBO) is a national Indigenous not-for-profit company based in Melbourne specialising in training and performance opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performing artists.

In 2009, Deborah Cheetham established Short Black Opera as a national not-for-profit opera company devoted to the development of Indigenous singers. The following year she produced the premiere of her first opera Pecan Summer. This landmark work was Australia’s first Indigenous opera and has been a vehicle for the development of a new generation of Indigenous opera singers.

In March 2015 she was inducted onto the Honour Roll of Women in Victoria and in April 2018 received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of South Australia for her pioneering work and achievements in the music.

Ms Cheetham’s Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace, premiered to sold out audiences on-country at the Port Fairy Spring Festival in October 2018 and at Hamer Hall in Melbourne with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra on June 15, 2019.

Deborah Cheetham’s list of commissions for major Australian ensembles including works for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Australia String Quartet, West Australian Symphony Orchestra String Quartet, Rubiks Collective,

The Sydney Philharmonia, Plexus Collective, the Goldner Quartet and Flinders Quartet.

In 2019 Deborah Cheetham established the One Day in January project designed to develop and nurture Indigenous orchestral musicians. In this same year she received the Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award for service to music in Australia, the Merlyn Myer Prize for Composition and was inducted onto the Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll.

Deborah Cheetham has been named the 2020 Composer-in-residence for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and begins her appointment at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, Monash University as Professor of Australia Music practice.

Deborah is the 2019 winner of the prestigious Melbourne Prize for Music and was named Limelight Magazine’s Artist of the Year for 2019.

In 2020 Deborah describes herself as a “21st century urban woman who is Yorta Yorta by birth, stolen generation by policy, soprano by diligence, composer by necessity and lesbian by practice.”

Major Compositions • Pecan Summer, Yorta Yorta and English. Australia’s first Aboriginal opera. On-country premiere 2010 • Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace. Large scale work for soloists, choirs and orchestra. Sung in the language of the Gunditjmara people. Australia’s first resistance-war commemoration for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal performers. On-country premiere October 14, 2019 Port Fairy Spring Festival. • MPavilion Acknowledgment to Country Series, Boon Wurrung language. Commission for the Naomi Milgrom Foundation to inaugurate a summer cycle of cross art-form programming. Since 2014 (continuing) • Dhungala Choral Connection Song Book, various languages • Ancient Land Processional, Kaurna, Boandik and Barngarla languages. Commission for the University of South Australia. Recorded by Adelaide Symphony Orchestra 2018 • Woven Song Embassy Tapestry Series. Singapore, Dehli, Tokyo, Paris, Rome, The Holy See, Washington, Dublin, Beijing • Beneath the Wings of Bunjil. Commission for the City of Casey 2018 opening of Bunjil Place. • Tarami Nulay, Gadigal and English. Commission for St Andrews Cathedral School 2017 • Eternal Birrarung. Commission for the City of Melbourne upon the restoration of the Federation Bells 2013 • Dali Mana Gamarada, Gadigal language. Commission for the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.


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