Deborah Cheetham, Yorta Yorta woman, soprano, composer and educator has been a leader in the Australian arts landscape for more than 25 years. In the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Deborah was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for distinguished service to the performing arts as an opera singer, composer and artistic director, to the development of Indigenous artists, and to innovation in performance. In March 2015, she was inducted onto the Victorian Honour Roll of Women.
Short Black Opera Café, Death Scenes and Drama Queens and ‘Til The Black Lady Sings were early successes for Deborah, combining her talents as a writer, performer and entrepreneur. ‘Til the Black Lady Sings has toured to London, New York, Eastern Europe and around Australia for almost a decade.
In August 2000, she was commissioned to write and perform an original composition, Dali Mana Gamarada, which she would later perform as the welcome to country at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Deborah later collaborated with Wicked Beats Sound System to record ‘Dali Mana’ as the lead track for Festival Records’ 2001 album, Corroboration.
Commissioned to write and perform a one-woman play for the Olympic Arts Festival Wimmin’s Business series, she gave the premiere performance of her first major work at the Sydney Opera House in 1997. White Baptist Abba Fan was to dominate Deborah’s career for the next five years, and became the vehicle for her international debute.
In April 2007, she was awarded a prestigious two-year fellowship from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board of the Australia Council for the Arts. This fellowship allowed her to create her second major theatrical work – Australia’s first Indigenous opera, Pecan Summer. In 2010, she brought together Australia’s first classically trained Indigenous ensemble to present its world premiere.
The success of Pecan Summer led Deborah to create Short Black Opera Pty Ltd, a national not-for-profit company for the development of Indigenous opera singers. It also led to three subsequent seasons in Melbourne (2011, Arts Centre Melbourne), Perth (2012, State Theatre Centre) and Adelaide (2014, Her Majesty’s Theatre). This landmark work has been a vehicle for the development of a new generation of Indigenous opera singers. In 2016, Pecan Summer will head to the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House for a fifth season.
In October 2016, Deborah made her Port Fairy Festival debut with a commission for the Australian String Quartet. Eumeralla Prelude forms part of a larger work for choir and soloists, performed in the ancient langage of the Gunditjmara people of south western Victoria, and will be premiered late in 2017.