“Bringing Down the House” – Meet our Residents, The Village Yeronga

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From cane country to centre stage at Covent Garden, Giuseppe Sorbello’s career has certainly hit the high notes.

A Passion for Theatre from an Early Age

Humble yet backed with bravado, Giuseppe Sorbello’s unbridled passion for the theatre hasn’t wavered since his first soprano performance as a six-year-old in his family’s Sicilian trattoria. The man born in Mossman, North Queensland, may have grown up in the heart of Brisbane, but his natural talent has seen curtain calls in Britain, Europe, and Australia.

From only two auditions in the early 60s, Giuseppe (Joe) has fostered an admirable career that has seen him sought after by greats of the stage — affording him a lifetime of invaluable experiences. It was a sliding doors moment when he was offered contracts for both the Hampstead Theatre and Glyndebourne Festival Opera in the same week in 1965. “I accepted the Glyndebourne contract, and started my opera career in the Glyndebourne festival chorus,” Joe says. “I worked at Glyndebourne for four seasons, ‘65 through to ’68.”

Making His Mark in Glyndebourne and Beyond

During his time there, Joe performed at the Glyndebourne Festival, the Wexford Festival in Ireland, and The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden among other renowned places. “I went on tour with the Glyndebourne Touring Company into the Midlands, the provinces of England, and also to Scandinavia and Brussels,” he says.

Upon leaving Glyndebourne he married the love of his life, Sheila, who was an accomplished wig mistress heavily involved in theatre pursuits.

Though Sheila isn’t here anymore, Joe speaks fondly of his talented late wife and tells of her journey to sew the ‘The Opera Costume Quilt’.

The magnificent textile is made up of 2,695 pieces of stage costumes which Sheila began sewing together in 1958, completing it in 2014.

Following their marriage in 1968 and a series of accomplishments as a performer, things soon came full circle when he was approached to teach acting to singers at The Royal College of Music. “I never thought of myself as a teacher, but what did I have to lose?” he says. “I found I began to really like teaching and I did that for eight years.”

From Performer to Teacher and Director

An Hon. degree of ARCM was conferred upon him in 1971, and with value on the grassroots of performance, Joe found immense joy in supporting developing performers to enhance their acting skills rather than taking the stage himself. “I discovered that teaching was what I really wanted to do and directing students in opera and drama. So that’s what I did… I never looked back really,” Joe says.

He speaks fondly of going on to teach at Morley College, The Abbey Opera Group, and The Actors Studio for Opera Singers in London before returning home to Australia in 1977.

Back in the River City, he was invited to join the Queensland Conservatorium to establish the opera school — which was no mean feat. “They had no lighting, no costumes, no props – they had nothing,” he says. “They had this theatre with a 600-seat auditorium and a lighting console which could operate lights, but no lights.”

Building an Opera School from the Ground Up

True to his nature, Joe made it his mission to build the school from the ground up. As the Conservatorium Opera School’s inaugural teacher of stagecraft and opera studies, Joe says his philosophy has always been to do whatever is best for his students by instilling the fundamentals of performance in them first. “If you prepare yourself well for a career and you learn all the basic skills, doors will open for you. Doors will not open if you don’t know your business, it’s as simple as that really,” he says.

After 20 years as founder, director, and coordinator of the opera school, and then as a freelancer, Joe has directed and performed in upwards of 50 productions including opera, operetta, musicals, and contemporary music theatre. “The thing that satisfies me more than anything else about my career is when I see students develop their skills and a belief in themselves,” he says. “When a student comes to me every so often and says thank you, that’s a wonderful thing.”

Continuing the Love of Theatre in Retirement

Though he’s now retired from performing, the emotions, vulnerability, and ‘magic’ evoked from theatre remain unshakeable as he enters his 89th year.

Joe is a resident at The Village Yeronga. This article originally featured in edition 1 of The Village Retirement Group’s resident magazine, “Village Living.” Request your copy of the magazine today when you enquire below.

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