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Bringing audiences back to the opera


AN Australian opera company is betting on a brand new production based on an iconic Australian novel to bring new audiences to the theatre.

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The State Opera of South Australia launched its 40th season today with a line up that includes its own production of Cloudstreet, a new opera based on the quintessential Australian novel by Tim Winton.

Developed over the past five years by international theatre director Gale Edwards and composer George Palmer, the production was taken on by State Opera of South Australia Chief Executive and Artistic Director Timothy Sexton and will be staged in May.

Cloudstreet is 100 percent opera 

“Timothy is an innovative thinker and has taken the risk on a brand new work,” says Gale Edwards, who laboured over the adaptation of the novel for three years before it was picked up by Sexton in her hometown of Adelaide.

Edwards says that marrying the colloquial Aussie novel with an art form traditionally viewed as more formal is an excellent way to attract new audiences to the theatre.

“Cloudstreet is essentially the story of the little Aussie battler and making it into an opera will invigorate opera and make it accessible to new generations,” says Edwards.

Cloudstreet, published by Tim Winton in 1991, explores family relationships by chronicling the lives of two working class Australian families who come to live together at One Cloud Street in a suburb of Perth in Western Australia, the state Tim Winton grew up in.

Edwards said that the iconic novel, one that Australian students study in high school, was perfect for an opera because it is an epic drama with a mythological aspect that lends itself well to the stage.

The popularity of the story – it has been made into a successful stage play and television miniseries – may be key to attracting new audiences and bolstering sales.

According to an Australian government review of opera in the country, attendances at opera between 2007 and 2010 declined by 36 percent and revenue took a 15 percent hit.

To counter the slide in mainstage opera attendance, opera companies have stuck to performing popular classics as well as branching into musicals and other forms of theatre.

“Companies become conservative when faced with falling revenue and government funding cuts,” says Edwards. “So it is brave of Timothy to stage this new opera.”

Edwards says the new work is 100 percent opera, with no dialogue and features many lyrics straight from the book.

“We’ve got characters singing lines like ‘Shit! Look over there’,” says Edwards. “This is not like anything else, it’s totally unique and fresh and that’s the reason for doing it.”

The rest of the State Opera of South Australia’s 2016 season takes in classics such as The Magic Flute, Tosca and a Puccini Spectacular and includes Ngurunderi Inspirations and Innocence, two other new productions the company developing. 

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