Opera Australia

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Logo of the company
Sydney Opera House, home of Opera Australia, illuminated at night Opera House (4705428365).jpg
Sydney Opera House, home of Opera Australia, illuminated at night

Opera Australia is the principal opera company in Australia. Based in Sydney, its performance season at the Sydney Opera House accompanied by the Opera Australia Orchestra runs for approximately eight months of the year, with the remainder of its time spent in the Arts Centre Melbourne, where it is accompanied by Orchestra Victoria. In 2004, the company gave 226 performances in its subscription seasons in Sydney and Melbourne, attended by more than 294,000 people.[ not verified in body ]

Opera Artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Australia Country in Oceania

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 25 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest city is Sydney. The country's other major metropolitan areas are Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide.

Sydney Metropolis in Australia

Sydney is the state capital of New South Wales and the most populous city in Australia and Oceania. Located on Australia's east coast, the metropolis surrounds Port Jackson and extends about 70 km (43.5 mi) on its periphery towards the Blue Mountains to the west, Hawkesbury to the north, the Royal National Park to the south and Macarthur to the south-west. Sydney is made up of 658 suburbs, 40 local government areas and 15 contiguous regions. Residents of the city are known as "Sydneysiders". As of June 2017, Sydney's estimated metropolitan population was 5,230,330 and is home to approximately 65% of the state's population.


It is funded by government grants, corporate sponsorship, private philanthropy, and ticket sales. The proportion of its revenue from ticket sales is considerably higher than that of most companies, approximately 75 per cent.[ not verified in body ] The company is perhaps best known internationally for its association with Dame Joan Sutherland, for Baz Luhrmann's production of Puccini's La bohème in the early 1990s and more recently, for, apart from performances inside the opera house, large scale outdoor performances on Sydney Harbour.

Joan Sutherland Australian soprano

Dame Joan Alston Sutherland, OM, AC, DBE was an Australian-born coloratura soprano noted for her contribution to the renaissance of the bel canto repertoire from the late 1950s through to the 1980s.

Baz Luhrmann Australian film director, screenwriter and producer

Baz Luhrmann is an Australian writer, director, and producer with projects spanning film, television, opera, theatre, music, and recording industries. He is regarded by many as a contemporary example of an auteur for his distinctly recognizable style and deep involvement in the writing, directing, design, and musical components of all his work. He is the most commercially successful Australian director, with four of his films in the top ten highest worldwide grossing Australian films of all time.

Oz Opera, now called Opera Australia Touring and Outreach, (Opera Australia's education, access and development arm) presented the La bohème production in Victoria, Northern Territory and Western Australia, attended by 13,350 people, while OzOpera's Schools Company performed to over 63,500 primary age children in more than 360 performances in urban and regional New South Wales and Victoria.[ not verified in body ] Since then the touring and outreach arm of the company has performed to a great many more people around Australia and toured other states, including South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania.

Victoria (Australia) State in Australia

Victoria is a state in south-eastern Australia. Victoria is Australia's smallest mainland state and its second-most populous state overall, making it the most densely populated state overall. Most of its population lives concentrated in the area surrounding Port Phillip Bay, which includes the metropolitan area of its state capital and largest city, Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city. Victoria is bordered by Bass Strait and Tasmania to the south, New South Wales to the north, the Tasman Sea, to the east, and South Australia to the west.

Northern Territory federal territory of Australia

The Northern Territory is an Australian territory in the central and central northern regions of Australia. It shares borders with Western Australia to the west, South Australia to the south, and Queensland to the east. To the north, the territory looks out to the Timor Sea, the Arafura Sea and the Gulf of Carpentaria, including Western New Guinea and other Indonesian islands. The NT covers 1,349,129 square kilometres (520,902 sq mi), making it the third-largest Australian federal division, and the 11th-largest country subdivision in the world. It is sparsely populated, with a population of only 245,800, fewer than half as many people as Tasmania.

Western Australia State in Australia

Western Australia is a state occupying the entire western third of Australia. It is bounded by the Indian Ocean to the north and west, and the Southern Ocean to the south, the Northern Territory to the north-east, and South Australia to the south-east. Western Australia is Australia's largest state, with a total land area of 2,529,875 square kilometres, and the second-largest country subdivision in the world, surpassed only by Russia's Sakha Republic. The state has about 2.6 million inhabitants – around 11 percent of the national total – of whom the vast majority live in the south-west corner, 79 per cent of the population living in the Perth area, leaving the remainder of the state sparsely populated.

Many thousands of Australians also experienced the work of their national opera company through television, radio, video, compact disc, DVD, and the annual free performance of opera in the Domain in Sydney. The company also performs in an annual outdoor event at Mrs Macquarie's Chair, Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, where since 2012 operas such as La traviata , Madama Butterfly , Turandot , Aida and Carmen have played.

The Domain, Sydney park in Sydney, Australia

The Domain is a heritage-listed 34-hectare (84-acre) area of open space located on the eastern fringe of the Sydney central business district, in the City of Sydney local government area of New South Wales, Australia. Separating the central business district from Woolloomooloo, The Domain adjoins the Royal Botanic Gardens and is managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens Trust, a division of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, an agency of the Government of New South Wales. The Domain is a popular venue for outdoor concerts, open-air events, large political gatherings and rallies and is used daily by the people of Sydney for exercise and relaxation. Along with the Royal Botanic Gardens, The Domain was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 2 April 1999.

Mrs Macquaries Chair

Mrs Macquarie's Chair is an exposed sandstone rock cut into the shape of a bench, on a peninsula in Sydney Harbour. It was hand carved by convicts in 1810, for Elizabeth Macquarie, the wife of Major-General Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales. The peninsula itself was known to the Gadigal as Yurong Point, and is now widely known as Mrs Macquarie's Point, and is part of The Domain, near the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Haruhisa Handa is a Japanese religious leader and a businessman. Handa is the Chairman and spiritual leader of the Shinto-based religion World Mate. He is also known by the name Toshu Fukami Toshu Fukami in his artistic career, as well as the pen name Toto Ami Toto Ami. He also uses the pseudonym Leonardo Toshu, which is used as his radio personality.


Australian Opera Company, 1956–57

In 1956, the Australian Opera Company was formed in Sydney under the auspices of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust. It commemorated the Mozart bicentenary by presenting four Mozart operas in all capital cities, travelling more than 10,000 kilometres, and giving 169 performances.

The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust was established in September 1954 under the guidance of H. C. ‘Nugget’ Coombs, Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, Sir Charles Moses General Manager, Australian Broadcasting Commission and John Douglas Pringle, Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. It aimed to establish drama, opera and ballet companies nationally.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Austrian composer of the Classical period

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, baptised as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, was a prolific and influential composer of the classical era.

Elizabethan Theatre Trust Opera Company, 1957–70

By 1957, it changed its name to the Elizabethan Theatre Trust Opera Company.

In 1959 the company's laid-off singers gave the first of many regional tours (presented by state Arts Councils) with Rossini's The Barber of Seville using reduced scenery and conducted from the piano by Georg Tintner (Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland). Subsequent Arts Council tours included Rigoletto (1960; Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales), Così fan tutte (1961; New South Wales, Queensland) and La traviata (1962; New South Wales, Queensland), all conducted by Tintner. However, by 1963 a permanent nucleus of singers and staff was retained throughout the year and the company had made appearances at regional festivals, including the Adelaide Festival. It was also able to establish the first Elizabethan Trust Orchestra for the company by 1967 with additional government aid. During this time, Stefan Haag played an important role in the development of the company.

Regional Arts Australia is the national peak body for regional arts organisations throughout Australia. Formed in 1966 as the Arts Council of Australia, it is a federation of the peak non-metropolitan community arts organisations in each of the Australian states and territories. It advocates better recognition and support for the regional, rural and remote arts sector in Australia. It initiates and manages projects to support regional artists, artsworkers and communities in arts practice, arts promotion and audience development in the regional and rural sectors.

<i>The Barber of Seville</i> 1816 opera by Gioachino Rossini

The Barber of Seville, or The Useless Precaution is an opera buffa in two acts by Gioachino Rossini with an Italian libretto by Cesare Sterbini. The libretto was based on Pierre Beaumarchais's French comedy Le Barbier de Séville (1775). The première of Rossini's opera took place on 20 February 1816 at the Teatro Argentina, Rome, with designs by Angelo Toselli.

Georg Tintner, was an Austrian-born conductor whose career was principally in New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. Although best known as a conductor, he was also a composer.

A major milestone for the company was a television recording of Puccini's Tosca filmed in 1968 at the Adelaide Festival. This starred Tito Gobbi as Scarpia alongside two Australian singers, soprano Marie Collier in the title role, and tenor Donald Smith as Cavaradossi, with the Argentinian born, Italian conductor Carlo Felice Cillario conducting. This was the commencement of a long and fruitful association between the Australian Opera and Cillario until his retirement in 2003. Some of his first rehearsals in the country involved conducting the Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra and the Australian Opera Chorus, both newly formed and on permanent contracts. [1]

While not yet appearing with this company, Joan Sutherland, then an internationally known Australian soprano, and her husband, the conductor Richard Bonynge, helped the cause of opera in general in Australia during the 1960s. Sutherland's name was also linked to the progress of the Sydney Opera House, begun in 1957 and still undergoing a lengthy and controversial construction. [2] By the time "La Stupenda" appeared there in 1974, one year after the opening of the theatre, the company was a leading repertory company with a large chorus and a roster of experienced Australian principals supplemented by guest singers and conductors. [3]

The Australian Opera, 1970–96

In 1970, the company became known as The Australian Opera. The 1970s saw considerable changes both in administration and location. In 1972, Edward Downes, formerly associated with London's Royal Opera House, became musical director, and his first new production was the Australian premiere of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, followed closely by Prokofiev's War and Peace as the opening night performance of the Sydney Opera House, a short time before the building's official opening.

The Sydney Opera House, as well as quickly becoming a distinctive cultural landmark in that city, gave the company a permanent performance home and thus helped to expand its repertoire and develop local audiences. Audiences were boosted by Joan Sutherland's performances with The Australian Opera in Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann . In the 1974 season, three Australian works were performed: The Affair by Felix Werder, Lenz by Larry Sitsky, and Rites of Passage by Peter Sculthorpe. (Rites of Passage was to have been the inaugural opera presentation at the Sydney Opera House, but was not ready in time.)

By 1976, Richard Bonynge had become musical director and he led the company on its first overseas tour to New Zealand with Verdi's Rigoletto and Janáček's Jenůfa , the latter conducted by Georg Tintner. This was followed in 1978 by the first Australian Opera country tour with orchestra to north-eastern New South Wales ( Don Pasquale with the Queensland Theatre Orchestra, conducted by Tintner). The principal tenor for this tour was Robin Donald. From 1977 to 1990, the resident director was Elke Neidhardt.

In 1977, the New South Wales Friends of the Australian Opera and the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust established the Armstrong-Martin Scholarship to further the musical education of professional opera singers.

During the 1980s, after many years of recording performances by the Australian Opera for television, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and The Australian Opera presented their first live simulcast, Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus , and it was seen by more than two million people. Over the following years a series of simulcasts reached millions of Australian homes.

Luciano Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland appeared at the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House in 1983, with the Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge (the sister orchestra in Melbourne was known as the Elizabethan Melbourne Orchestra. Now they are known respectively as the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, Sydney and Orchestra Victoria, Melbourne). Another successful concert with Sutherland and Marilyn Horne was held in the Concert Hall.

Several innovative features characterised this period of the 1980s. The first, Esso Opera in the Park in the Sydney Domain, quickly became an annual event, and it is now called "Opera in the Domain". Typically, it attracts almost 100,000 people each year. A similar annual outdoor event, which attracts more than 25,000 people, is held in Melbourne. The second was the establishment of The Esso Young Artists' Development Program for the Australian Opera while the third was the Australian Compositions Program launched with a new production of Brian Howard's Metamorphosis.

Another innovative program, The National Opera Workshop, was established to enable selected Australian composers to present works in workshop form with artists from the Australian Opera. Lastly, OperaAction, the Youth Education Program, established a program of events, including three youth performances of Puccini's Madama Butterfly and, in 1986, Winds of the Solstice, an original youth opera created by 70 students working on libretto, music, choreography and orchestration and presented at the Sydney Opera House.

The company re-organised its administration gradually throughout the decade, appointing Moffatt Oxenbould as artistic director in 1984, and announcing that Bonynge would become Musical Director Emeritus and principal guest conductor from 1987, after his decade long contract as musical director expired. [4]

In 1988, in association with the Australian Bicentennial Authority, the company toured Brisbane, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and the National Opera Workshop in Melbourne with The Ra Project, a music-theatre work composed with the direct participation from the earliest stages by the singers who performed it and marking director Baz Luhrmann's first association with the Australian Opera.

Sutherland gave her farewell performances for the Australian Opera in 1990 in a production of Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots . Two years later, the company named its major rehearsal studio after Dame Joan.

Also in 1990, Baz Luhrmann's La bohème premiered in Sydney, establishing Cheryl Barker and David Hobson as important principals in the company. Such was its impact that the production went on to play at the Broadway Theatre in New York in 2002 for 228 performances. [5] [6]

The early 1990s were to see two important changes in the way that the company worked: firstly, in 1991, with the formation of the Artistic Associates of The Australian Opera, a body of people was created which comprised some of the most important figures in the Australian musical and performing arts world. Secondly, the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra was integrated with the Australian Opera to produce a permanent opera and ballet orchestra for the company.

In its first performances outside Australasia in 1994, the company performed Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Edinburgh International Festival. In addition, the Baz Luhrmann production of La bohème was screened over more than 300 North American television stations, followed by worldwide video release and a later Broadway version.

Opera Australia, since 1996

Opera Australia (OA) was formed by the merger of the Australian Opera and the Victoria State Opera (VSO) companies in 1996, following the financial collapse of the Melbourne-based VSO. [7] Adrian Collette was appointed general manager of the new company, and developed a three-year plan to restructure the company [8] involving twice yearly seasons in both Sydney and Melbourne, integrating the OA and VSO staff and planning a viable financial structure so as to manage the inherited debt.

The first few years of the present century saw the retirement of Moffatt Oxenbould, Opera Australia's artistic director for 15 years, and the appointment of Simone Young as musical director. Immediately on taking up her position in 2001, Simone Young appointed the Australian director Stuart Maunder to the position of artistic director. Young proceeded to develop the company's core repertoire, including more German operas [9] in the repertoire and diversifying the types of productions mounted and the standards of international and local artists employed. By late 2002 however, the OA board, faced with mounting deficits, announced that Young's future visions for the company were "unsustainable" and decided not to renew her contract after the end of 2003. [10]

At the end of 2003, Richard Hickox was named music director-designate of Opera Australia, and took up the post full-time from January 2005. During his tenure, Hickox diversified the repertoire with the addition of more 20th-century works such as The Love for Three Oranges , Rusalka and Arabella , recording live performances of many of these works for Chandos Records. The company's 50th anniversary was celebrated in 2006 with a gala concert in which tributes were paid to Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge, the principal artists, the chorus, production staff and the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra (the AOBO) for their "artistry and talent" and the "ensemble nature" of the company. [11] In mid-2008, Hickox and Opera Australia were criticised by a singer for what she perceived as a decline in artistic standards since the start of Hickox's tenure. The board expressed complete confidence in Hickox. [12] On returning to the UK in November 2008 following the Sydney winter season, Hickox died suddenly from a heart attack after conducting a rehearsal in Swansea. [13] On 30 June 2009, Lyndon Terracini was announced as the new artistic director. [14]

Sydney Opera House, 2010 Vivid Sydney 2010 (4694179693).jpg
Sydney Opera House, 2010

"Change for survival"

In 2011, Terracini gave a controversial speech as part of the annual Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address, in which he announced that Opera Australia had to change in order to survive. "Opera companies and orchestras of significance world wide are closing at an alarming rate ... We can blithely ignore the fact ... or we can change ... brave programming is having the courage to programme what critics will criticise you for, but will make a genuine connection to a real audience." [15]

Stage of Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour 2013 'I've looked at CARMEN from both sides now...but still somehow...^^^' - panoramio.jpg
Stage of Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour 2013

Terracini pursued a program designed to bring opera to wider audiences. In 2012 through the sponsorship of Haruhisa Handa and Destination NSW, Opera Australia staged the first Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, a three-week season of a fully produced and staged opera, designed to be an opera "event". [16] The production of La traviata was directed by Francesca Zambello and attracted an audience of 40,000 people. [17] In 2013, Opera Australia staged an open-air production of Carmen on Sydney Harbour, directed by Gale Edwards. It reached similar audience numbers. [18] The harbour has since received annual stagings, followed by Madama Butterfly (2014), Aida (2015), and Turandot (2016), [19] a new production of Carmen in 2017, La bohème (2018), West Side Story (2019).

In 2012, Opera Australia replaced the regular Gilbert and Sullivan productions that had formed part of the company's repertoire for some years with a series of Broadway musicals. A Lincoln Center Theatre production of South Pacific played at the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne's Princess Theatre in 2012, kicking off a national tour which continued in 2013. [20]

An extensive philanthropic drive enabled the company to program its first full-length Ring Cycle , which was performed in Melbourne over four weeks at the end of 2013. [21] After tickets to the event sold out in just one day, ABC Classic FM and Opera Australia announced the radio station would live broadcast the Ring Cycle to audiences across the country. [22]

In April 2013, Opera Australia announced a 44 per cent growth in total revenue based on an increase in box office sales of more than 55 per cent. For the second year in a row, the company reported an operating profit following two successive deficits. [23]

In January 2013, the board of Opera Australia announced they would extend Lyndon Terracini's contract as artistic director for five more years. [24] Later that year, Terracini announced that singers on 12-month contracts will be "rested" without pay for a period of six to twelve weeks in 2014. [25]

Educational outreach

Oz Opera was established after the merger of the AO with the VSO in 1996 with Lindy Hume as its director. Its aim is to present opera to audiences throughout metropolitan and regional Australia. It presents performances in primary schools across New South Wales and Victoria, adapting large-scale scores to suit young audiences. [26]

Modern Australian opera

Opera Australia is committed to the long term development and performance of modern Australian operas. Since 1974, OA has fully staged 12 new Australian operas and workshopped over 20 new works in various stages of development. The main new works staged by the company have been The Little Mermaid by Anne Boyd (1985); Metamorphosis by Brian Howard (1985); Voss by Richard Meale (1986); Whitsunday by Howard (1988); Mer de glace by Richard Meale (1992); The Golem by Larry Sitsky (1993); The Eighth Wonder by Alan John (1995); Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Richard Mills (1999); Batavia by Richard Mills (2001); Love in the Age of Therapy by Paul Grabowsky (OzOpera 2002); Lindy by Moya Henderson (2003); Madeline Lee by John Haddock (2004); and Bliss (2010) by Brett Dean. [27] In 2015, OA produced the television opera The Divorce by Elena Kats-Chernin and Joanna Murray-Smith based on an original idea by Terracini for ABC Television.

Digital strategy

In 2011, Opera Australia launched a digital strategy in order to bring high-definition recordings of its operas to cinemas (in collaboration with CinemaLive), as well as launching DVD, Blu-ray and CD releases on its own label and broadcasting these recordings on ABC Television. [28]

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  1. Hall. S, "Opera Conductor a Humble Wizard in Oz", The Australian . 20 December 2007. Accessed 15 December 2008
  2. Adams 1980, p. 126.
  3. Adams 1980, pp. 235–236.
  4. Oxenbould 2005, p. 419.
  5. La bohème at the Internet Broadway Database
  6. "Once more with chutzpah" by Erica Jeal, The Guardian , 13 December 2002
  7. Gill, Ray (7 September 2003). "Opera takes diva into the red". The Age . Melbourne. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  8. Oxenbould 2005, p. 650.
  9. Oxenbould 2005, pp. 706–707.
  10. Mattison, Ben (13 September 2002). "Opera Australia Fires Simone Young". andante Corp. Archived from the original on 20 October 2006. Retrieved 10 May 2018.Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  11. Opera Australia's 50th Anniversary Gala Programme Note. 2006. p. 3, Hickox.
  12. Roger Maynard (16 August 2008). "Soprano sounds off about 'disrespectful' Briton in charge of Opera Australia". The Independent . London. Retrieved 21 November 2008.
  13. Ashleigh Wilson (24 November 2008). "Opera Australia conductor Hickox dies suddenly". The Australian . Retrieved 25 November 2008.
  14. "Opera's artistic director Lyndon Terracini found close to home" by Corrie Perkin, The Australian (1 July 2009)
  15. PGH Address Archived 25 April 2013 at the Wayback Machine . New Music Network. Retrieved on 2013-08-02.
  16. "Opera goes to water to attract masses". The Australian. 25 May 2011.
  17. Opera on Sydney Harbour a resounding success. Aussietheatre.com.au (2012-04-18). Retrieved on 2013-08-02.
  18. "Carmen sings $6 million aria as rain strains sale – Weather hits Handa Opera on the Harbour's attendance figures" by Steve Dow, The Sydney Morning Herald , 17 April 2013. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  19. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 June 2016. Retrieved 2 May 2016.Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. "Box office takings a high note for OA". The Australian. 18 April 2013.
  21. Melbourne's multi-million dollar Ring cycle | The National Business Review. Retrieved on 2013-08-02.
  22. ABC Classic FM and Opera Australia announce special event partnership. About the ABC (2013-06-04). Retrieved on 2013-08-02.
  23. Opera Australia posts 44% growth Archived 21 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine . Limelight (2013-04-18). Retrieved on 2013-08-02.
  24. "Reign of Terracini to last five more years" Archived 21 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine . Limelight . Retrieved 2 August 2013
  25. "OA uproar as singers 'rested' without pay" by Matthew Westwood, The Australian , 4 May 2013 (subscription required)
  26. Opera Australia. "Life Amplified" 2009, p. 51
  27. Oxenbould 2005 , pp. 700–707 Not all repertoire lists are complete. Check bibliography for full in-text references.
  28. "Opera Australia launches own DVD/CD label and TV broadcasts after successful debut at cinemas" Archived 27 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine , Press Release (12 May 2011)