West Australian Opera brings The Nightingale to MANPAC

SONGBIRDS: Leanne Puttick and Matthew Dixon are amongst the many creatives who will take The Nightingale opera to the stage at the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre. Photo: Samantha Ferguson.
SONGBIRDS: Leanne Puttick and Matthew Dixon are amongst the many creatives who will take The Nightingale opera to the stage at the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre. Photo: Samantha Ferguson.

Being home and being able to sing before an audience is a thrill for opera singer Matthew Dixon after a year in which live performances were shut down.

When he steps onto the stage for the opera The Nightingale, he knows he is lucky to be there.

Dixon returned from living in London just before COVID hit. The baritone had been studying at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, a world-renowned arts college for which he had earned a full scholarship.

Sitting at a table inside the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre (MANPAC) overlooking the water, the 26-year-old WAAPA alum had overwhelming gratitude at the chance to take the stage again.

"My friends in Europe are still locked down," he said.

"We are so lucky to be in WA right now, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to perform for an audience. Even when European operas start opening up, the audience capacity will be a third of what it usually would be."

The Nightingale, presented by MANPAC and West Australian Opera, where Dixon is a young artist, is based on a tale written by Hans Christian Andersen.

Dixon plays the role of the emperor who becomes obsessed with the song of a nightingale.

"I think while COVID hit the arts industry so hard, it also reminded us how important it is. That's what everyone turned to during lockdown, what else is there as a society that pulls us out of our predicaments?" he said.

Another young artist who is eager to return to the theatre is conductor Leanne Puttick, who is also the orchestra librarian for the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

"I studied ballet growing up, and played the violin and flute," Puttick said. "I composed throughout high school and eventually went on to study composition at WAAPA."

Moving into conducting was a process which Puttick described as "growing closer to the music".

"I studied conducting units while at WAAPA, and also was fortunate enough to do some summer courses in Vienna," she said.

When she realised that she wanted to seriously pursue conducting Puttick began reaching out to Western Australian Ballet conductors, asking if she could shadow them.

"I made a nuisance of myself, basically," Puttick laughed.

"That is a piece of advice I would give a budding conductor, be brave and don't be afraid to ask for what you want. Nine out of ten times, people will want to help you.

"I was raised by my dad, and he always encouraged me to go after what I want, I got my work ethic from him."

Bringing The Nightingale to Mandurah felt like a return for Puttick and will add to what she described as "many fun memories" from her time in the area as a child.

"I have an aunt and uncle who live in Mandurah. I came down here a lot as a kid, so being able to bring The Nightingale here is quite special," she said.

Puttick, much like Dixon, saw firsthand the impact of lockdown on the arts.

"Friends of mine across the world have been totally unable to return to work. That is why I feel so lucky to be here," she said.

"The West Australian Opera has been fantastic. They made it a priority to support us during lockdown - we stayed connected online, we even did an impromptu online opera. We were able to grow together through this unique experience."

The Nightingale is an opera for families and the Peel Community Children's Choir will play a pivotal role in the performance.

"The composer designed the main character (the Nightingale) as something that can be played by different entities - the chorus are acting as a main character - and the music, it's absolutely beautiful," Ms Puttick said.

MANPAC will host The Nightingale for two performances, a matinee and evening show on April 24. The matinee performance will be a "relaxed performance", designed to include those with (but not limited to) autism, sensory sensitivities, learning disabilities, dementia, anxiety or trauma. Tickets can be booked at the MANPAC website.