Shattering the chandeliers

SOUTH FREO soprano Penny Shaw and her Divalicious colleague Fiona Cooper Smyth will be gracing the hallowed stage of the Sydney Opera House later this month. But first they’re having a warm-up at humble John Curtin College of the Arts.

With voices powerful enough to shatter chandeliers Shaw and Cooper Smyth belt out a mix of opera and pop in their show Licence to Trill that promises dressing room gossip and Hollywood glam.

The pair are sassy and talented divas who have taken on the fickle world of art to turn singing into a business.

If you want to work in the music industry in WA you can’t rely on jobs from other people, Ms Shaw says.


“You have no power, and I found it frustrating waiting for the phone to ring, hoping someone wants you.”

Cooper Smyth comes from a business background, including public relations for Andrew Lloyd Webber in the UK.

Shaw, who lives in South Fremantle, wanted an opera career, but was pushed towards a human sciences degree at Oxford University.

Her parents were happy – and so was Shaw as her music teacher lived nearby.

“While at Oxford I became even more interested in opera. I completely fell in love with it.

Her teacher pushed her towards the classics: “But I wanted to do musical theatre…like Le Miserables,” she says.

But the repetitiveness of a year in Phantom of the Opera was too much.

“Eight shows a week. Doing the same show for a year is like Ground Hog Day.”
The arrival of children, and a move to Australia slowed her career: “You have to be in the theatre every day and in Australia you have to tour.”

She met Cooper Smyth, who also hails from the UK, in Perth, but the pair were rivals for parts in the WA Opera chorus, and their show hams up their initial stand-off.

Licence to Trill is a cocktail of opera and pop and is a great introduction for kids, Shaw says.

“They might not want to sit through three hours, but kids in my experience really enjoy opera.”

The JCCA show is a helping hand for mate Adele Carles who is raising money for Edna Adan in Somaliland.

Ms Adan built her own maternity hospital 14 years ago, where she’s reduced the mother/infant mortality rates, and is campaigning to end the horrific practice of female genital mutilation.

Ms Carles recently volunteered for a couple of months at Ms Adan’s hospital and was appalled at the butchering of girls as young as seven.

Licence to Trill is on at JCCA July 16, 6.30pm. Tix at


28 Adele Carles Divalicious 20x328 Newport 10x3

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