Current Issue #488

Taking opera to the people

Taking opera to the people

State Opera is aiming to introduce more people to the artform by using a range of different venues in 2019.

“More opera for more people,” proclaims Yarmila Alfonzetti, State Opera of South Australia’s new executive director, in the company’s 2019 season brochure. Her words signal a different era that sees the company spreading its wings in several directions.

One is venues. For as long as one cares to remember, State Opera has performed principally in just two places: Festival Theatre for mainstage productions and its own studio space in Netley for smaller, chamber-type pieces. Latterly, it added the Town Hall for more concert style presentations, but that was when the Festival Theatre was undergoing refurbishment. But with a new directorial team in place, State Opera is trying out some intriguing ideas about how and where opera can be staged.

“I’ll go to my grave saying everybody can enjoy opera,” says Stuart Maunder, the company’s new artistic director. “We want to show as much of it as we can, and opera should be everywhere.”

In 2019, State Opera presents two operas in the Festival Theatre instead of the more customary four, but they will be productions that span more nights than has been the rule in past years. Madama Butterfly, in a new production directed by Kate Cherry, runs five nights in November, and Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado runs six nights later in the same month.

But from there it is all different. Victoria Square plays host to Bizet’s Carmen in a massive arena style production in March, and Ridley Centre at the Adelaide Showground will be home to Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen in May. Maunder himself directs both of these productions. And for a fleet of smaller productions, State Opera will use Elder Hall for Purcell’s King Arthur, Queen’s Theatre for Ross Edwards’ Christina’s World and John Haddock’s Madeline Lee, and Dunstan Playhouse for Martin Wesley-Smith is Boojum!.

Cunning Little Vixen

Carmen in the Square will plant opera in the heart of the city like we’ve never seen before, says Maunder.

“It is saying we’ve arrived, and thanking Adelaide for supporting the company. There will be technical challenges of having to secure the site, but it becomes a golden opportunity for us to say ‘Look, here, we’re here in town’”.

Three big screens will be placed around Victoria Square to ensure everyone has visibility, and the performance will be beamed out to regional audiences in cinemas in Port Pirie, Renmark and possibly further locations to come.

“Maybe one day we can even bring opera to Coober Pedy,” Maunder quips.

It is not that State Opera has fallen out of love with the Festival Theatre either. Maunder cites The Makropulos Affair, Voss, Dead Man Walking and Moby Dick as among the great productions that have taken place there that have made State Opera “a really important company”.

“I will be delighted to build on that legacy,” he says.

Madama Butterfly

Nevertheless, smaller venues are a major thrust next year. Maunder singles out two events at Elder Hall as top of the list. These are Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort performing King Arthur and a recital by tenor Ian Bostridge with pianist Saskia Giorgini.

“The thing I absolutely love about Adelaide is that you can see Ian Bostridge, one of the finest lieder singers in the world, in Elder Hall for $65. You’re not going to hear him for £65 in Wigmore Hall,” he says.

Sydney-born baritone Morgan Pearse and Canadian mezzo soprano Wallis Giounta at Ukaria are two further highlights.

State Opera is also moving towards ‘dressed down’ venues as a way of bringing further audiences to opera. Queen’s Theatre in the CBD is one, and Bowden’s Plant 4, a converted factory, is another. They cost the same as using the company’s own Netley studio space, Maunder says. A pop-up performance at Plant 4 of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in October was the first step in this direction, and he says State Opera will use that space again.

“I think we’re breaking new ground by choosing venues like these,” says Maunder. “People who say they don’t like opera have usually never been to see opera, and I defy anyone not to enjoy it.”

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