Opera. It’s widely regarded as an elitist artform, and not without good reason; tickets are sold at astronomical prices, with audiences tending to consist of the same higher-income bracket earners. This is something 29-year-old composer Nicholas Gentile wants to change. A talented musician and singer in his own right, Gentile stumbled across Émilie’s story in 2019 when he was commissioned to write a new opera for Fine Music Sydney.
If Émilie du Châtelet is not a common household name, her lover’s certainly was. Voltaire was a famous philosopher, known as a key figure in progressing the French Enlightenment. But Émilie was more than his silent mistress; she was a secret heroine of science, an innovator in fields that shaped the world we live in today.
“I wanted a story that could speak to everyone, and I think I’ve found something really special with Émilie. She really was an incredible woman.”
Collaborating with book writer Cheryl Sawyer, Nicholas had a vision to take his opera Emilie and Voltaire to the screen; a vision spurred on with the recent events of the global pandemic. It’s undeniable that the effects of COVID-19 on the theatre industry are disastrous, but Gentile has found renewed vigour in his filmic pursuit of his opera.
“People have never been more ready to experience live theatre, but that’s just not possible at the moment. So why not bring opera to people’s homes?”
With the generous support of Opera Australia, Gentile and Sawyer will be filming a short 20-minute concept film that will screen at Italy’s Puccini Opera Festival in 2021 – no small feat for an original Australian piece on an international stage. Heading the vibrant, youthful team is producer Demi Louise. “Demi’s just brilliant! It’s so inspiring to work with other young people who are as passionate about opera and film as I am.”
The role of the 18th Century heroine is a demanding one and requires a highly skilled actor and singer. Who could possibly fill these shoes? None other than the incomparable Julie Lea Goodwin. The talented principal soprano is the darling of the Australian opera world, starring in Phantom of The Opera, La Boehme, Le nozze di Figaro and countless other productions.
In an industry that is scrambling for content, there’s no doubt that the film will be picked up by a digital streaming service. The production for the concept short is due to be filmed in Darling Point’s Lindesay in December. “Emilie’s is a woman’s story that everyone should know. Our incredible team is so excited to bring her story to life on the screen.”
The production currently has funding for two days filming; however, Gentile and Louise are seeking to include a crucial aria from Émilie in the short film. “This aria will help bolster the film’s storytelling power, augmenting its impact as an innovative art piece,” says Gentile. It will feature the female lead as a direct homage to the project’s ethos of gender empowerment. This serves not only as a vital portrayal of this theme in the story itself, but it’s a real-life reflection of the young and brilliant cast and crew.
In order to film this aria, they will need to add an extra day of filming to the schedule. This requires several thousand dollars in addition, to ensure access to location, equipment, catering, and can provide their team with financial compensation for their work which carries heightened importance during these difficult times. To support this production visit the GoFundMe page for Émilie & Voltaire – An Opera Film: gofundme.com/f/emilie-amp-voltaire