Lyndon Terracini on giant OA initiatives coming to fruition
|Andrew Jones as Papageno in The Magic Flute 2012|
|Opera Australia Artist Director|
Allerta: This is a watershed year for Opera Australia: A new Magic Flute production, presented in shortened version, has opened at the Sydney Opera House, and this month we see the opening of Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour (HOSH), Opera Australia’s biggest production to date. And there’s much more to come. Could you tell us a little more about the rationale behind these massive initiatives, and fill us in on how they have been doing?
Lyndon Terracini: To survive, Opera Australia needs to play to many more people than it has played to in the past, and it has to play to the demographic represented in the cities where it performs. This is behind everything that we do, and reflected in the program. Our summer season opened with The Magic Flute, sung in English, presented in a shortened version and originally directed by Julie Taymor for the Met. We’ve had many more young people coming to this production than we’ve seen in a long time, and the audience has also been more representative of Sydney’s ethnic demographic. We think that this is partly because the style of Taymor’s production is in keeping with contemporary theatre practice, to which contemporary audiences from a variety of ethnic communities relate: it’s visual, there’s something happening every 30 seconds and the costumes are stunning.
We also think that the production being in keeping with what Mozart and Schikaneder had envisaged, has drawn a wider audience: they performed it at a suburban theatre, in the vernacular, when at the opera house all operas were sung in Italian. Performing in English, in a country where most people speak English, is in keeping with this approach. Schikaneder, who sang the role of Papageno, spoke his lines with a Viennese accent, and so again, it’s appropriate for us to use an Australian accent in our production. All these factors seemed to have played a role in the production’s appeal to Sydney audiences.
|A 3D rendering of Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour|
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What about Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour?
HOSH reflects Sydney’s outdoor lifestyle and the physical beauty of Sydney Harbour, the idea being that to Sydneysiders, coming to see this La Traviata will feel like absolutely the most natural and obvious thing to do. So far, we have attracted many first-time opera goers, which means the production is appealing to the broad audience that we were hoping to attract. We also aimed to draw interstate and international visitors to this quintessential Sydney experience, and this too, is happening.
OA is performing in Brisbane for the first time in over 20 years. What was the thinking behind this?
We were invited by Queensland premier Anna Bligh. We are thrilled with the invitation, since as the national company it is important for us to perform as widely as possible. It does mean that we have about 337 performances on the main stages this year, which is massive, especially as they take place in cities that by world standards don’t have large populations. There is clearly a great appetite for people to come to OA’s performances. It is reflected in the enthusiasm of our sponsors: our budget has increased by $30 million this year and most of that has come from new sponsorships.
Tremendous. We’ve found wonderfully generous sponsors in Tony and Maureen Wheeler – without their support we couldn’t have done it. We are performing the Ring only in Melbourne because we think that the Ring suits the culture of Melbourne in the way that HOSH suits the culture of Sydney. Presenting the Ring in Melbourne was a practical decision too; certainly we can’t do it at the Sydney Opera House, while we have a suitable theatre at Melbourne’s Arts Centre.
What other initiatives are in the pipeline?
|Kanen Breen as Monostatos in |
The Magic Flute 2012
Through Opera Conference we’ve commissioned a new opera from Elena Kats-Chernin, The Divorce, a comedy which will run as a TV sitcom series rather than a theatre piece. Elena Kats-Chernin is a hugely creative, intelligent composer with an enormous amount of skill and experience, and she uses that talent to connect with her audience. SBS STUDIO estimates that we can play to 80,000 people. There’s no way that we could ever reach such a large audience with a contemporary opera staged in a theatre – our hugely successful production of La bohème last year played to 51,000 people. So this is a tremendous opportunity.
Developing the opera in a format that is specifically suited to television means that it is being conceived of and created, and will be shot, as a soap opera. Ideally there will be a cliff hanger at the end of each episode. In effect we’ll be creating television opera.
In previous centuries, thousands of operas were created and staged, and never heard of again. Yet if it weren’t for those unsuccessful operas, we might never have had the masterpieces of the repertoire. It would seem that the international opera community can no longer sustain such a volume of creative activity; it’s simply too expensive to produce opera. How do we solve this dilemma?
It is indeed extremely expensive to produce new opera, and very difficult to find a substantial audience for it. This will continue to be the case if we keep creating and producing these pieces in the same way as we always have. We’ve been throwing huge amounts of money at new operas, and they’re still playing to very small audiences. So it’s my view that we need to rethink how we approach them.
|A view from the dining facilities at|
Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour
There is a view that OA has not been doing enough to educate audiences in the appreciation of contemporary opera. What is your response to this?
Actually it’s the other way round: opera composers need to write music that appeals to audiences. Mozart, Verdi, Rossini, they all wrote for their audience, and if they didn’t have an audience, they didn’t have a show. The Magic Flute played 100 performances in its first run because the public wanted it to see it. We’re flat out trying to fill the auditorium for four performances of a new opera. To me that says that we need to develop and workshop new pieces, so that by the time they are performed, the audience is able to connect with them.
The feedback that we get unequivocally shows that if people come to a contemporary opera and dislike it, they never come back. And the most common criticism of new opera that we get is that people hated the music.
In Europe, where opera houses have a subsidy which is 80% of their budget, you can afford not to have an audience. This year, direct Government funding came to 19% of our budget. For us, putting on pieces that don’t appeal to our audience would be highly irresponsible.
|David Parkin as Sarastro in |
The Magic Flute 2012
Asian communities are very strongly represented in Australia’s East Coast cities, and large numbers of Asian people have been bringing their children to The Magic Flute. Would OA consider providing surtitles in Asian languages for some of its productions?
The time will certainly come where we’ll talk about adding Mandarin or Cantonese surtitles. What I would hope would happen in time, is that the opera house will include a facility for surtitles in the back of seats, which will allow us to provide a range of translations in a non-intrusive way.
How does one ensure that in reaching out to new audiences, one does not lose one’s core audience?
You need to balance the program. We started the summer season with The Magic Flute, which a small part of our core audience didn’t like. But we also did Turandot, which is exactly what that audience wants to see. So if you include a piece that is aimed at reaching out to a wider audience in the program, then you also, within that season, balance it with something that connects very strongly with your core audience.