This stop, Woodend, next stop, the world

Alicia Patterson

Siobh n Stagg has stopped in Woodend more times than she can count, but the Woodend Winter Arts Festival is what will finally get her to stay - if only for the weekend while she performs in the fastest-selling music performance of the festival before she heads off overseas.

Her numerous trips through the town (courtesy of V/Line) have been for the journey between ‘home’ in Mildura, and the University of Melbourne, where this rising star will be due to complete her Masters in Music (Performance) the week before the festival.

“It’s a seven-hour train journey home at the end of semester and Woodend is a train stop I’ve always found myself peering out the window, thinking what it might be like,” she said, admitting that as a regional Victorian “it feels like home.”

Siobhan’s voice has won fans worldwide - including rave reviews of her performances at the Melbourne Recital Centre last month. Last year she won First Prize and the Audience Choice Award in the prestigious Meistersinger Vocal Competition in Graz, Austria and featured on the debut album of Latitude 37 which was nominated for Best Classical Album in the 2011 ARIA Awards. She includes among her career highlights performances the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra in Sydney and Melbourne last year and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra a little over a week ago.

This year the 24-year-old received the Australian International Opera Award - a scholarship awarded to just one singer each year - which will take her to the UK to study from October. This week she is considering offers from Paris and Berlin for 2013.

The festival is an extraordinary chance to see one of Australia’s (and regional Victoria’s) major export talents before she’s gone from our shores.

Siobh n says that the festival’s reputation in the classical music scene is top-class.

“It’s extraordinary, this festival, there’s a whole swag of top-class musicians all there. It’s a real hidden treasure just outside Melbourne. I am thrilled to be performing at it; I have known it by reputation for years.”

Siobh n will be performing four times during the weekend - two shows of Haydn and Mozart with Ensemble Gombert and Academia Arcadia (directed by festival president John O’Donnell) and the fastest selling music event in the program - Cantata’s of the Arcadian Academy: A Dialogue of Love and Power, featuring Max Gillies and Barry Jones (as a Pope and a Cardinal respectively - in non-singing roles), directed by festival artistic director, Jacqueline Ogeil.

‘Cantatas’ is a light-hearted and comical ‘mini opera’ complete with costumes, in which the Pope (Gillies) bans opera and carnivals in a bid to eliminate debauchery, while the Cardinal (Jones) negotiates to save them. This is a full musical theatrical experience in the classical operatic tradition, but in an accessible and compact hour or so.

Opera and the stage are a long way from early dreams of being a vet or taking up medicine - Siobh n’s older brother is a doctor and her younger brother is studying to be one; her parents are teachers. And it was really only six years ago when Siobh n was exposed to her first orchestra and opera that her dream shifted.

“It’s been a slow six years of training to get here. I was always singing but it was always just a hobby. Music (professionally) is new in my family. My brothers spent a lot of time during our childhood telling me to be quiet,” she laughs.

Classical training has enhanced Siobh n’s vocal ability in jazz and theatrical singing, but she is in awe of what beautiful classical performances can offer.

“At the festival I will have the opportunity to sing some really beautiful classical music, especially the Haydn and the Mozart. If people come, it will leave them light and uplifted.”

Book to see the Cantatas (Saturday & Sunday at 4pm) or the Haydn and Mozart recital (Saturday and Sunday at 8.30pm) on-line or phone 0428 271 272 business hours Tuesday to Saturday.