The Rabbits Kate Miller-Heidke, Lally Katz and Iain Grandage ABC Classics Hop, hop, hooray! It’s here, at last. The musictheatre piece that charmed audiences at the Perth, Melbourne and Sydney festivals and took four Helpmann Awards last year has emerged from its warren. Parents throughout this country have long been grateful for the haunting children’s book by John Marsden with illustrations by Shaun Tan. All hail Opera Australia’s chief Lyndon Terracini for the inspired idea of transforming a vexed tale of colonisation and displacement into a family opera. A stellar creative crew was brought together by theatre director John Sheedy, who adapted the book. Lally Katz created the libretto for gorgeously attractive new music by Kate Miller-Heidke, assisted by the inimitable orchestral strokes of Iain Grandage. This recording was made before a Sydney Festival live audience in January 2015 and is supplemented by a five-minute excerpt performed by Miller-Heidke and Grandage, destined to be a hit tune that will live on the concert platform too. Despite the sprawling scope of the work’s subject matter, these rabbits and marsupials are a modestly sized family, comprising 12 singer-actors and a band half that number. Michael Halliwell’s insightful booklet notes struggle to find a place for The Rabbits in the recent lineage of Australian opera and music theatre. It’s likely that MillerHeidke and crew have never heard of Albert Arlen or perhaps even the Wesley-Smith twins whose Boojum! titillated an Adelaide Festival three decades ago. Yes, The Rabbits advances a tradition of tuneful explorations of Australian identity that is barely acknowledged today. The music scurries along a warren of influences, elevated Gilbert and Sullivan, Satie-fied circus music, mesmeric Sondheim, coruscating John Adams and a few numbers of foot-tapping funk. Many of this recording’s 15 tracks feature the stratospheric trilling of Miller-Heidke, an operatically trained singer who moves easily between Brisbane’s Topology and the Metropolitan Opera’s recent revival of Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer. Alongside her commanding narrator-like performance as Bird, there are outstanding performances from a number of rabbits, notably Kanen Breen as a scientist who spends much of the hour-long work singing in falsetto. Among the marsupials, Marcus Corowa and David Leha contribute moving performances as the original inhabitants of an ancient land suddenly dealing with the arrival of a strange species, the rabbits. (Words such as invasion and reconciliation, though on the tip of many lizardly silvertongues, are studiously avoided; these issues are addressed in the CD booklet.) In effect, The Rabbits is a moving allegory of a dimension of Australian history that is not easily explained to children. Is there a better introduction to a discussion around the family table of this issue? Polemics aside, this is a beguiling hour of fun that rewards repeated listening and reflection.