1975 and the 'end of reform'

Tuesday, January 1, 1991

REVIEW BY NANCY ATKIN

1975
Melbourne Workers Theatre and the Canto Coro choir
North Melbourne Town Hall Arts House, cnr Errol and Queensberry streets
Wednesdays to Saturdays, 7.30pm, until June 7
Tickets:$25 ($20 for union members, $15 concession)
Bookings: (03) 9326 8371

Indonesian troops prepare to invade East Timor, a war that's really about oil resources. In Melbourne, a Labor Party stalwart argues that the federal ALP's re-election is more important than foreign policy integrity.

The Melbourne Workers Theatre and Canto Coro are presenting 1975 at the North Melbourne Town Hall. This "populist opera" explores tumultuous events in Australia's political history and the invasion of East Timor, bringing them to life in song, music and drama.

The work gained new relevance as the performers rehearsed during the invasion of Iraq. On the day of its first performance, Indonesia invaded Aceh (as East Timor celebrated the anniversary of its independence).

The story is set in 1975, with the federal Labor government of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam under siege. An Australian journalist is missing in Balibo. His friends and family struggle to come to terms with his disappearance. Meanwhile, an East Timorese woman has her own story to tell.

Audiences have responded enthusiastically to 1975, and are keenly debating the history and issues raised by the opera.

The passionate performances by the Canto Coro choir were especially acclaimed by opening-week audiences. The central role of the 40-strong community choir provides a new dimension to political theatre.

Performers tell this strong political story primarily through song. The music in 1975 includes contemporary classical music (including a haunting a cappella requiem mass), choral pieces and pop songs. Strings, piano, percussion and a jazz horn section are an integral part of the work.

Described as a "populist opera" by the Melbourne Workers Theatre and Canto Coro, this bold art-form aims to involve a wider range of individuals, in particular working-class people, in opera and to tell their stories through song. 1975 achieves this through accessible music and dialogue that allows people of all backgrounds and musical skills to take part, either as audience members or choristers.

Irine Vela, in addition to composing the music score, scripted 1975 and wrote the libretto. "1975 symbolised the demise of both idealism in society and truth in politics. For me, it seemed the sudden end of all the reform, trust and hope manifested three years earlier in the election of Labor to government", says Vela. "1975 deals with the death of these ideals, not only through the constant state of crisis in the government, but also by the invasion of East Timor, highlighting the contradictions in our society and body politic and our complicity in that invasion."

Irine Vela is renowned for writing music for challenging choral works, political theatre and film. Her "Little City" (about a community that rebels against injustice) won a Sounds Australia Award in 1997. Vela has composed music for Melbourne Workers Theatre, Brunswick Women's Theatre and Perth's Deckchair Theatre. She won a 2003 Tropfest award for best original score for short film Forbidden.

[Visit <http://www.cantocoro.net> and <http://www.melbourneworkerstheatre.com>.]

From Green Left Weekly, June 4, 2003.

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