Deborah Cheetham’s new opera packs a punch

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This was published 2 months ago

Deborah Cheetham’s new opera packs a punch

By Elizabeth Flux


Parrwang Lifts the Sky

Digital access until December 19

What would you do if you’d always seen the world as a beautiful, colour-filled place, then suddenly discovered that for almost everyone else, all they could see was darkness? In the case of Parrwang the magpie, the answer is simple – do everything in your power to bring light to everyone.

For those around her, however, the question is a bit more complicated.

Victorian Opera’s Parrwang Meets the Sky

Victorian Opera’s Parrwang Meets the SkyCredit:Mel Serjeant

Parrwang Lifts the Sky is a new opera based on a traditional story connected to Wadawurrung country; like the best of fables, it offers evergreen messages and questions. Parrwang (Rebecca Rashleigh) is singing about the beauty of the land when two children climb her tree and tell her that the world below is completely dark.

The opera explores the delicate push and pull between humans and the natural world, and there’s a dread that delicately descends as Parrwang optimistically advocates for lifting the darkness. This is a story about creation and the first dawn – so we have all seen how it plays out. While the opera is ultimately uplifting, it’s possible to superimpose the messages and ideals of Parrwang Lifts the Sky over any number of issues, in particular the climate emergency and the human-led destruction of the natural world. Just because it is aimed at children and families does not mean the underlying themes pack any less of a punch or are any less urgent.


Each cast member is given the opportunity to shine. Composer and librettist Deborah Cheetham AO, who also plays the role of Gorngany, is a particular highlight, alongside Don Christopher as Bunjil, who sings most of his lines in Wadawurrung language.

It’s truly a shame that this vibrant opera did not have a chance to be performed before a live audience but digital access allows all viewers to appreciate the artistry of the set and the intricate beauty of the costumes in closer detail than real life would allow.

  • The Parrwang Lifts the Sky season was cancelled due to pandemic-related restrictions. An online video recording can be streamed from the Victorian Opera website.

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