Artistic director Stuart Maunder says Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, an adaptation of Ray Lawler’s 1955 Australian play of the same name, is the “perfect opera” for the company’s return to live performance.
“It goes to our stated desire to support the Australian opera industry with Australian operas and Australian and Adelaide-based creatives,” he says.
Because it is a new production, the staging can be adapted to suit whatever COVID-19 restrictions may be in place when the season begins, while the fact that the opera has a relatively small cast and orchestra adds further flexibility.
A new performance was added this week, so there will now be three shows on November 14, 18 and 20.
In line with the current COVID-19 safety guidelines in South Australia, audience members will be spaced out with one empty seat between them, meaning the newly rebuilt Her Majesty’s Theatre can accommodate half its potential 1467-person capacity over three levels.
However, Maunder says the design of the theatre means audiences members will still have an intimate experience.
He relishes the opportunity to present opera in the new-look Her Maj.
“It was traditionally the home of State Opera back when it started in 1976 [the company’s first show there was Puccini’s La Boheme].
“The feel of it is that it’s wonderfully intimate and the perfect place to do that lifeblood of opera … most of those great operas were written to be performed in theatres of about 900 to 1000.”
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll tells the story of two cane-cutters who travel south to Melbourne for an annual summer fling with two city girls – but in the seventeenth year the reunion is different.
While the opera version – a reimagining by Peter Goldsworthy (libretto) and Richard Mills (composer) – is imbued with the flavour of the period in which it is set, Maunder says the story of human relationships at its heart still rings true.
“It absolutely recreates a great play to make what I think is a great opera … it’s a very moving, thoughtful, proud showing of everyday Australian life, be it now or then.”
The COVID-19 lockdown began at the start of State Opera’s 2020 season, forcing the cancellation of its planned outdoor spectacular Carmina Burana at Memorial Drive on March 27.
Other productions suspended or cancelled due to the pandemic include The Barber of Seville, Bran Nue Dae, Sweeney Todd and Macbeth.
Although the latter two were to have been presented towards the end of this year, Maunder says the company made the decision to postpone them because it needed to give both its contracted artists and its audience some certainty despite the ever-evolving situation surrounding COVID-19.
Some of this year’s scheduled shows – including Sweeney Todd – will go ahead next year, but there will also be new productions added for 2021.
“What we as a company are trying to do is to be as flexible as we can,” Maunder says.
“As soon as things open up enough for us to put our toe in the water, we will.”
During the shutdown period, State Opera has sought to keep its audience engaged with Arias from the Archives, a series of arias celebrating milestones in the company’s history and recorded in May at the Dunstan Playhouse. It also launched the State Opera Kaspar and Maunder podcast.
Nonetheless, Maunder says it is clear audiences are eager to get back in the theatre to experience live performance.
“We thrive on getting people into the same place to have a collective enjoyment of something. I think that desire is quite primal.”