Rotary Great Lakes and the Great Lakes Creative Network have combined their talents to stage a cultural event by the shores of Wallis Lake on March 19. This event will be an opera gala to celebrate some of the world’s most beautiful music, with pieces presented from operas such as Carmen, La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, and more! Peter-John Layton is one of the members of Opera Bites, the extremely gifted and popular opera company based in Sydney, that will be performing at the event. Peter-John grew up in the Manning-Great Lakes, and he’s very excited to be performing back on his home turf!
Hi Peter-John. Tell us about you background and where you grew up …
I was born in Taree. I lived in Cundletown, then moved to Forster and started school at Forster Primary. My family moved to Firefly, so then I attended Nabiac Primary. Years 7 to 12 were completed at Chatham High School.
I moved to Sydney straight after high school, where I completed a science degree at Macquarie University (but worked at Ton-O-Fun initially in the holidays, before I left, and also BiLo in Tuncurry – where I returned every uni holidays for the entire three years of studying for my degree to pack shelves and work on the checkouts).
At the end of uni I started working in Sydney and also completed a Masters in Communication at UTS.
I still live in Sydney, but the majority of my family are all still up around Taree and Forster, and my parents are still in Firefly.
How did you become involved with opera?
My grandfather, Ken Cause, was a well-known local musician.
I started learning classical piano when I was about eight from one of Pop’s old teachers, Mrs Dyball.
In high school I studied music with Val Audet (I remember in Year 8, two mates and I composed a song, Mother Audet, in Val’s honour).
I continued studying piano throughout school, but my secret passion was for singing.
I tinkered around with singing a bit at school and also at university while I was living on campus, performing in a couple of musicals.
I started working straight after uni, and one of the first things I did with my new cash was get singing lessons. I followed Val’s advice, which I remembered from early high school – and that was to find an Italian singing teacher – preferably female.
I was living in Newtown, and started flicking through the Yellow Pages. The closest singing teacher to me, who was only 500 m up the road, was Mrs Nitta Caruso. Female – and definitely Italian – so all boxes ticked!
I started training with Nitta Caruso in 1993 – at which point I claimed I was not interested in opera – just following my Year 8 school teacher’s advice to be classically trained – by an Italian female.
I was more interested in musical theatre, but very quickly learnt my first opera aria, which was from Cavalleria Rusticana (from which a couple of pieces will appear in the Opera by the Lake repertoire).
From then on, I was hooked on opera, and I continued to study singing.
I did my first audition in 2009, and at that first audition I landed a minor principal role.
From that point on I have been performing consistently in a range principal roles – there are almost too many to remember.
How and when did you establish Opera Bites?
From connections through performing with several opera companies in Sydney, I met some fellow performers and now very dear friends, with whom I established Opera Bites in late 2009. The company’s first performance took place in January 2010.
We have been growing stronger and stronger ever since and have performed around Australia and New Zealand over the past six years.
How much are you looking forward to singing at the Opera by the Lake event?
Finally I am singing back on my home turf! I never thought when I embarked on my performance career all those years ago I would end up singing under the bridge in John Wright Park, Tuncurry. I can only hope the kids out on boats and dinghies on the Lake on Saturday 19th March might hear some of the sublime pieces Opera Bites will be performing – and go look up Val Audet’s details and get singing lessons!
It is an absolute pleasure and honour to be singing at an event like Opera by the Lakes – and let’s hope this is the start of many annual events to bring the local community together to listen to all their favourite opera classics – and all beside what is arguably one of the most beautiful lakes in the world!
Opera by the Lake – John Wright Park, Tuncurry on 19th March 2016. Gates open at 1pm; See Sinfonia MNC from 2pm and Opera Bites from 3pm.
Adults; $45.00; conc $40.00; child under 16 $30. *Booking fees apply.
Photo courtesy of Michele Mossop.