Rockdale Opera Company is one of the most unique bodies sponsored by Local Government in Australia. It was founded in 1946 as the Rockdale Municipal Orchestra under the conductorship of Cedric Ashton M.B.E. and in 1948 Council decided to extend its cultural field to include opera. The four founding members of the Rockdale Municipal Opera Company were conductor Cedric Ashton, tenor Alan Ferris, pianist Megan Evans and cellist Rupert Orchard. The opera “Faust” was the Company’s first production and in the following year “Carmen” was staged. Every year since, the Company has produced at least one grand opera, making it the longest continually running opera company in Australia.
Over the past 62 years, there have been several company managers, most notably Councillor Ron Rathbone O.A.M., who in 1971, re-organised the Company when it looked in danger of closing. Fortunately it didn’t! -– and in 2008 the Company celebrated its 60th anniversary by staging a production of its inaugural opera – “Faust.”
Each year Rockdale Opera Company mounts three productions, - a Gilbert & Sullivan opera, an operetta and a grand opera. The philosophy of the Company is to provide opera at a price patrons can afford, whilst at the same time providing a platform on which up and coming singers can get a start on the stage and have the opportunity to perform with established artists.
Since its inception, the Rockdale Opera Company has been a springboard for many singers. Artists such as Geoffrey Chard and the late Deborah Riedel have appeared with Rockdale Opera before going on to establish successful careers with Opera Australia and overseas companies. In 1951 a young Joan Sutherland was engaged to sing at Rockdale but never did - as luck would have it, she won the Sun Aria Opera Competition and went off to London instead! Jonathon Welch, now well-known for the television series “Choir of Hard Knocks” sang in productions at Rockdale in the 1980’s and 90’s and most recently, Jose Carbo went on to sing the role of Figaro in Opera Australia’s “Barber of Seville” after dazzling Rockdale audiences in the same role in 2000. He is now one of Opera Australia’s leading baritones.
The Rockdale Opera Company is administered by a Committee, which is autonomous and is responsible for choosing a program for each year. 2011 saw successful productions of the G&S favourite “Iolanthe” and the dramatic opera “Lucia di Lammermoor” in August.