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A Unique Re-imagining: Jillian Halleron Reveals the Magic within WAO’s Oratorio

Winthrop Hall is set to be filled with divine sounds as the West Australian Opera moves in to perform Bach’s Easter Oratorio, from April 20 to 22. The piece is a new commission from Australian composer Lachlan Skipworth and will see him respond to the original text with inspiration from the architecture of UWA’s stunning Winthrop Hall. Magazine 6000 spoke with Alto Jillian Halleron, who is one of the piece’s four soloists, to get an insider perspective on this re-imagined work.

Tell us about this piece and how yourself and the West Australia Opera have responded to the original text, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Oratorio?

WAO have taken Bach’s Easter Oratorio which depicts the story of the resurrection of Jesus and have reimagined this piece by resetting Bach’s recitatives to new music by West Australian composer Lachlan Skipworth. Working with our director Margrete Helgeby Chaney, we have particularly been exploring the work as an evocation of key universal themes such as redemption, betrayal, hope, and how these make us feel. This is not being presented as a literal narration to the story of the Easter story but rather the aim is to facilitate audiences to go on their own journey and to reflect how certain themes make them feel.  

What are some of the rewards and challenges working with a piece like this?

I haven’t sung any of Bach’s music since graduating and so one of my personal challenges during this has been just working on breath control. My aria literally has been referred to as a train that is not stopping for anyone. However it is so rewarding working within this style of music again and there is honestly nothing more satisfying that hearing all the parts come together. The added process of finding ways to relate this style of music to the newly commissioned music has also been very satisfying. Getting to sing at Winthrop Hall alongside students of the UWA chorus and orchestra has also been a real joy, as there is nothing better than being surrounded by a room full of glorious sound.

What has been the experience working with composer Lachlan Skipworth? Have his methods of working shaped anything within your own approach to the composition?

I will admit that I was a bit nervous at the first rehearsal as I was wondering what Lachlan’s response would be to hearing us sing his music, but it has honestly been fantastic getting to work with him. As a classical singer, I generally perform work by composers who have long since left this world. To get to work directly with Lachlan and hear explanations of why he set music a particular way, has been fascinating and has then of course helped inform my choices of how I perform this work.

Jillian Halleron. Photography by Alana Blowfield

What can audiences expect from this piece, will lovers of the original composition be surprised by this reimagined approach?

This is a unique experience that you will not hear anywhere else. I guarantee that lovers of the original composition will be surprised by this reimaged approach – I mean how could they not, we are showcasing work in a format of mixing the old with the new. This arrangement is not something that has been seen or heard of before, so I implore people to come and be one of the first to experience it.

You graduated WAAPA in 2017, what’s your journey in the Opera world been like since then?

The journey has been a little bit bumpy thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. I successfully auditioned for the WAO chorus after I graduated and worked with them in 2018. In 2019, I relocated to Sydney to join Pacific Opera as an Associate Artist. Then in March 2020, only a few weeks after a successful line-up of performances including at Government House in NSW and with the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra, I was forced to make the decision to come back to Perth as my ‘stable income’ workplace had been shut down. However this turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me as Perth became one of the few places in Australia where I could continue performing. Then last year I was successful in auditioning for a position as one of the Wesfarmer Arts Young Artists and I am grateful to be continuing in the program this year in 2023.

What do you enjoy about working in Western Australia, is our Opera scene different to other places you’ve worked?

My time in Sydney was cut short due to the Pandemic so it is hard to make a fair comparison. However I really do love being in Western Australia as Perth has been my home since I immigrated to Australia from Scotland with my family when I was 14. It is great being close to my family and friends. WAO has offered me the opportunity to explore different facets of the company including touring Education workshops in regional schools across the state and working behind the scenes as the Surtitle Operator for ‘Koolbardi Wer Wardong’ performed in Esperance.

What’s next for you after Oratorio?

Next up on the 23rd of May I will be performing at the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre in a Morning Melodies concert with some other terrifically talented young artists from WAO. Following this, thanks to recently being awarded a Bendat Scholarship, I will be travelling back over East to spend time having a number of face-to-face coaching sessions, before then returning back to Perth to begin rehearsals for Otello.

You can see Jillian performing in the West Australian Opera’s Oratorio from April 20 to 22 at UWA’s Winthrop Hall.