Kate Kelly the chamber opera selected for national festival

Soprano Sian Prior and the community choir at the Kate Kelly Song Cycle performance in Forbes in 2011. Photo Steven Woodhall.
Soprano Sian Prior and the community choir at the Kate Kelly Song Cycle performance in Forbes in 2011. Photo Steven Woodhall.

Kate Kelly, the chamber opera co-created by composer Ross James Carey and writer Merrill Findlay in Forbes a decade ago, is to be performed online for a major national opera festival.

The Gertrude Opera Company in Melbourne will perform Kate Kelly for the 2020 Yarra Valley Opera Festival in October.

The Kate Kelly Song Cycle, as the chamber opera was initially called, tells the story of the youngest sister of bushranger Ned Kelly.

It emerged from Merrill's Kate Kelly Project and was first performed in Forbes on September 2011, as the headline act for inaugural Kalari-Lachlan River Arts Festival.

Known in Forbes at that time as Ada Foster, wife of William "Bricky" Foster and a young mother, Kate's life came to a tragically early end in the lagoon in 1898.

Merrill immersed herself in Kate's story as she worked on the Kate Kelly Project, which can be found on her website merrilfindlay.com

She took the next step to give Kate - as well as Bricky and Quong Lee - voice through the opera.

"I just think music is so powerful and I wanted to give Forbes an experience of something unique and special - and a chamber opera is that," she said.

Merrill reflected this week that it's absolutely thrilling to think the music will be streamed to a national and international audience.

"I was so lucky to have a story like Kate in my backyard and to have found a really good composer in Ross Carey who was teaching piano at the Conservatorium here," Merrill said.

"What really thrilled me - it was the first time I had ever worked with a composer - and I found he was able to use his music to amplify the emotions in my words. Some of Kate's arias, you can feel the pathos in them."

Due to funding constraints on the original Forbes performance, the opera was designed for one voice - with the backing of the community choir.

Kate Kelly has now been expanded for three voices, Kate to be performed by soprano Emily Burke, Bricky Foster by baritone Andrew Moran and grocer Quong Lee by tenor Michael Lapia.

"It will feel so much more real," Merrill said.

In a media release from Arts OutWest Gertrude's artistic director, Linda Thompson, says she is excited about Kate Kelly.

"I looked for a piece that was an Australian woman's story and this is a little nugget," she told The Age newspaper. "The music is really exciting, [with] rollicking moments, beautiful moments."

Kate Kelly will be streamed live from 7 pm, Saturday 24 October.

The original Kate Kelly Project was supported by the Australian Government's Regional Arts Fund.