Staging a new contemporary Australian work in a tough arts funding climate is considered a bold move, but Sexton says the musical – due to open at Her Majesty’s Theatre in May – has piqued people’s interest because so many Australians are familiar with the Tim Winton novel on which it is based.
“It’s an iconic Australian novel and a lot of people have read it.
“The play was so incredibly successful and the television mini-series was very well received and really well done, so it’s very much in the psyche.
“Taking it to the next stage and turning it into an opera is a very exciting thing.”
Composer and librettist George Palmer and international theatre director Gail Edwards have been working together for about five years on the production, which Sexton describes as being somewhere in the middle ground between an opera and musical.
It has the support of Winton, whose novel is set between 1943 and 1963 and tells the story of two working-class families – the Lambs and the Pickles – who come to live together in a ramshackle house in Perth.
The State Opera production will be performed by a cast of around 18, singing in the Australian vernacular.
“It’s an incredibly accessible work … [with] a great story and music of great beauty,” Sexton says.
“People really will go out whistling the tunes and singing the arias.”
2016 is shaping up to be a successful season for State Opera in its 40th anniversary year, with the strong early ticket sales for Cloudstreet following a sold-out season for its first production of the year – Mozart’s The Magic Flute, at the Freemasons Great Hall, in February.
It was the company’s first time participating in the Adelaide Fringe, and part of a strategy to make opera more accessible by offering different types of productions and using new venues.
Like the Adelaide Festival, the State Opera has noticed patrons are buying tickets earlier in the season than usual.
“As with most performing arts companies, we normally sell the majority of our tickets in the week prior to opening night and during the season, but this year’s sales are bucking that trend,” Sexton says.
“We’ve been tracking ahead of target since we launched the season last October and are selling more tickets overall.”
There will be seven performances of Cloudstreet from May 12-21 at Her Majesty’s Theatre, and Sexton says it deserves to sell out.
In an interview with InDaily last year, Gail Edwards praised State Opera’s courage in presenting the show at a time when funding cuts has made the production of new Australian work “incredibly rare and difficult”.
In response, Sexton says companies have a responsibility to present the work of living composers and artists, and to tell contemporary Australian stories. Although Cloudstreet is set in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, he says it still resonates because it is “quintessentially Australian”.
“Any new work is a risk.
“It depends on when you do it – if you did a work like this during a festival, people are much less risk-adverse. Doing it on our own not in a festival, it is a risk, because people don’t know what to expect.
“But once they hear it, they will be gobsmacked.”
The company’s other main-stage productions for 2016 are the Puccini Spectacular in September and Tosca in November.
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