What do Shania Twain and Tanya Kernighan have to do with opera? Nikki Hill tells The Argus about how opera took her from growing up near Croppa Creek to studying in Italy, and how she hopes to bring her passion for opera back to the bush.
"I didn't grow up in a household listening to classical vocalists like Pavarotti," says Nikki Hill, 28. Growing up on a property near Croppa Creek, 80km south of Goondiwindi, Nikki recalls a childhood spent riding at Tulloona Pony Club with occasional trips to the city to watch musical theatre. And on the radio? Country stars like Tanya Kernighan and Shania Twain.
Since those early days, Nikki has gone on to win a scholarship from Il Sasso Language School in Montepulciano, Italy and to sing in a masterclass with internationally renowned soprano Renée Fleming.
Now based in Brisbane as a professional opera singer, Nikki is bringing a taste of the classics back to Goondiwindi for Opera in the Gardens on May 11. In collaboration with Discover Farming, Opera in the Gardens will combine starlit opera aria with gourmet local produce to raise money for Cancer Queensland.
"I am incredibly passionate about ensuring opera is accessible to people living in the bush," Nikki said. "I also want to make sure it's relatable to those who may not have previously considered themselves an opera enthusiast - and Opera in the Gardens will do both these things."
For Nikki, her early singing training took place while she completed school via the Charleville School of Distance education. Nikki moved with her family to a cattle property near Mitchell when she was nine and she recalls taking part in weekly choir and recorder lessons over the HF radio. The first time Nikki realised she could sing was in the Charleville Eisteddfod when she was 10. "I won the female solo category with a rendition of 'I still call Australia home', accompanied by a cassette tape," Nikki said.
It wasn't until she began studying at The Queensland Conservatorium of Music, with Lisa Gasteen AO, that Nikki's love for classical music began.
At Opera in the Gardens, you will hear four professional opera singers (including Nikki) and also the excellent local voices of En Canto. The repertoire will include a combination of operatic classics and some lighter musical favourites. "I am very excited about the opportunity to be a part of this unique event," Nikki said. "I would encourage everyone to come along and experience some opera under the stars."
Complimentary buses will run from the CBD to the Gardens. Gates and cash bar open at 5pm. Guests will be welcomed with canapes and Prosecco accompanied by music from the High School String Ensemble. The Opera will begin at 6.30 with music from La Traviata. A silver fork supper will be served during the interval. Tickets are available via the Discover Farming website and also from My Design in Goondiwindi.