No such controversy surrounded George Palmer’s version of Cloudstreet (2016), couched largely in a music theatre idiom.
The “one production” phenomenon is not unique to Australia, but it results in a lack of a canon of local works.
The policy of the major opera companies in commissioning new resource-intensive works, while not completely discarded, seems to be in decline.
Richard Mills and Peter Goldsworthy’s Doll was premiered in Melbourne in 1995 to a mixed reception.
Controversy dogged Mills’s large-scale Batavia (2001) as well, with the critical reaction prompting a defence of the work by librettist Goldsworthy in newspapers and other outlets.
And if you’re honest, you would have to admit you’re pretty vague about what the small print means.
-Novelist William Mc Ilvaney In 1986, the Adelaide Festival staged an operatic adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning writer Patrick White’s 1957 novel Voss, a pivotal work in the Australian literary canon.Much of the innovation and excitement of new opera is to be found in the small regional and city-based companies that might do only two productions a year.Frequently one of these is a new work, often by a composer new to opera.This could lead to more Indigenous opera being staged, but perhaps not the grand, sweeping works of the past.It seemed that Voss might have been the catalyst for a new wave of operas that would tackle difficult and often controversial subjects.Voss might be seen as a watershed in the evolution of Australian opera - a large-scale work tackling critical social and political issues.In the three decades since then, contemporary operas have tackled an eclectic range of topics, from book adaptations, including Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet and The Riders, to the Lindy Chamberlain case and the murder of Maria Korp by her husband in Midnight Son.Of nearly 20 important operas premiered in this period only two, Bliss (based on the Peter Carey novel) and The Eighth Wonder, have received a new staging.Second productions, while not as “glamorous” as a premiere, are important for composers to refine their work.An opera of her story, Moya Henderson’s Lindy, was produced in 2002 but has not been staged since.It is difficult to identify a distinctive Australian operatic “voice” as such, either in the choice of subject matter for libretti, or in the musical means employed.