The first performance of the Ballarat Philharmonic Society in June 1858 was held in the Montezuma Hotel in Main Road, Ballarat East and ‘was in every way a most remarkable one’. The Miner and Weekly Star reported that the ‘public crowded to it as they always do on Ballarat to anything good, and it was evident they came to listen and not to show themselves’. The people on Ballarat obviously appreciated their music and went to the performance for their own pleasure.
The Philharmonic Society was part of a strong tradition in Ballarat which saw many genres of music and the arts performed and promoted. Ballarat gold fields’ society supported opera, choral works, orchestras, oratorio, music halls, religious music and many other types of entertainment.
The appearance of the Philharmonic Society orchestra was, according to the newspapers, ‘in itself a coup d’ceil of no ordinary kind’ and reminded the reporter of ‘those ancient times when Costa led the “Sacred Harmonic Society”. There was an ‘amazing array of instrumentalists and vocalists, not forgetting the bevy of fair ones, whose united sopranos contributed so much to the success of the evening’.
The only problems with the performance which commenced with the overture, were the numbers in the orchestra which prevented it from ‘being entirely effective’. Most of the excellent artists and instrumentalists were from Ballarat, including the soloists, alto Mrs Turner, the treble Mrs Moss and the bass Dr Kupferberg, as well as the magnificent choir. The conductor Mr Austin Turner and the leaders M. M. Fleury and Palzer all did their jobs well.
The recitative was sung ‘with great precision’ and the following chorus “and the glory of the Lord” rang ‘through the house with an effect rather surprising on the unaccustomed ears of our Ballarat public. The cluster of solos and choruses which followed were quite distinctive and the reporter wrote ‘it would be impossible for us to give sufficient praise to the performance of the choruses. Heavy as the task was the audience was unable to part with the “Hallelujah Chorus” without an encore.
Ballarat has continued to follow this long tradition with Eisteddfods, Musical Companies, and renowned singing groups. South Street, Ballarat Light Opera Company, Lyric Theatre, the St Cecilia Singers, choirs, orchestras, individual singers and instrumentalists have proven over the years that in Ballarat music is still active and well supported.
Ballarat has produced more than its fair share of musical talent. Recently David Hobson ‘did us proud’ on ‘It Takes Two’, which showed, along with his superb operatic talent his penchant for other musical genres. The Victorian Opera opens its new repertoire today August 19 at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne with Mozart’s renowned opera Cosi fan Tutte. Jacqueline Dark born and bred in Ballarat is playing one of the leading roles, that of Dorabella, one of the wickedly fickle sisters.