Resurrecting the ‘lost operas of Oz’

State Opera SA will shine a spotlight on three ‘lost’ Australian operas in its 2019 season, including two works to be presented in the historic Queen’s Theatre and “a deadly serious choral fantasy” based on a Louis Carroll poem.

Sep 28, 2018, updated Sep 28, 2018
The original Opera Australia production of 'Madeline Lee'.

The original Opera Australia production of 'Madeline Lee'.

SOSA artistic director Stuart Maunder – who last night launched a varied program that includes main-stage works Carmen, Madama Butterfly, The Mikado and Cunning Little Vixen – told InDaily that the three Australian operas being revisited are ones he particularly loves.

“There are a lot of great Australian works that have only had one outing, so this is a chance for us to present these operas in an intimate environment.

“We’re going to do nine of them over the next three years.”

The first of these will be the quirky Boojum!, by Martin Wesley-Smith, which is based on Lewis Carroll’s poem The Hunting of the Snark and is described as having a “Gilbert-and-Sullivan-meets-David-Lynch vibe”.

It was originally performed at the Adelaide Festival in 1986 under director Gale Edwards, and will be re-staged at the Dunstan Playhouse in July with a cast including participants in SOSA’s planned two-week Winter School for late secondary and tertiary students.

The two other “lost operas” – Christina’s World, by Ross Edwards, and Madeline Lee, by John Haddock – will be presented at the Queen’s Theatre in August and October respectively.

Christina’s World, which has not been presented since its original production in Sydney in the mid-1980s, is about a woman obsessed with a desire to return to the house of her youth.

“I always remember listening to it and thinking it was an incredibly powerful examination of dreams and how people can remember the same thing in very different ways,” Maunder says.

“It has a beautiful libretto by Dorothy Hewett.”

The SOSA program image for Christina’s World.

Madeline Lee, about a B24 bomber that disappeared over Libya in World War II with nine men on board, was presented by Opera Australia when Maunder was its executive producer, premiering at the Sydney Opera House in 2004 and scoring multiple Helpmann Award nominations.

“The Queen’s Theatre has its own ambience – this incredibly sort of historic, grungy feel which I think will lend itself really beautifully to this,” Maunder says of the two works.

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“There will only be 200 people a night, and that’s a wonderful experience to be sung to that close up.”

State Opera’s 2019 season will be headlined by a summer outdoor performance of Carmen in Victoria Square on March 23. To be directed by Maunder and featuring the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and the State Opera Chorus, it will be a family-friendly show that will be filmed and projected on two large screens in the square, with simulcast screenings in several regional cinemas.

It is part of a concerted effort by the company’s new leadership team to “get more people to more opera”.

“It’s a chance to enliven the centre of the city,” Maunder says.

“I think it’s a bold statement and one that I love.”

Another family-friendly opera, the colourful Cunning Little Vixen, will be presented at the Adelaide Showground’s Ridley Centre in May as part of the DreamBIG Festival, while the other main-stage works – Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic opera The Mikado – will be at the Festival Theatre in November.

‘Joyous and life-affirming’: Cunning Little Vixen.

The 2019 season also includes Girls’ Night Out, at the Town Hall in August, which will see conductor Simone Young lead the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and a line-up of artists including opera singers Emma Matthews, Catherine Carby, Miriam Gordon-Stewart and Lisa Gasteen in an  evening celebrating the music of Richard Strauss.

Maunder, who was appointed as artistic director in February this year alongside new executive director Yarmila Alfonzetti, is already looking ahead to what other Australian operas might be revisited in upcoming years as part of the “lost operas” series, but says creating new opera is “very important” to SOSA.

He tells InDaily that the company is currently working on two new collaborations, including one involving “a wonderful Australian play being turned into an opera”, with hopes that one of them will be ready to present by at least 2021.

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