• 01 Sep 2012 /  AUTOBLOGRAPHY, Reviews 2 Comments
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    Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Emile & Lisa McCune as Nellie – photo Jeff Busby

    I could have called this post ‘dust yourself off‘. Here I was dropping back into this site to write a response to OA’s South Pacific. It was one of my mega-pieces. Sadly due to an accidental switch-off of some hidden button/app/trojan in my computer I lost the lot. Three days of work. Should I throw the computer out the window? Should I throw myself out the window? There is so much I wanted to say about this show and that’s not gonna happen now. What I will say in summary is that it’s an excellent production (from the Lincoln Centre in New York via London) with wonderful Australian leads: Teddy Tahu Rhodes as the isolated French widower Emile, Lisa McCune as the ‘love-life’ love interest nurse Nellie Forbush, Kate Ceberano as Bloody Mary, also Eddie Perfect, Daniel Koek and Celina Yuen among others. If you love good theatre you will love this production. This is opera as theatre – gimmick free – and beautifully staged and sung.

    We are at a point in the creative journey of Opera Australia where, three years in, we are now seeing the current Artistic  Director Lyndon Terracini’s take full control of the commissioning aspect of the job. With the need to book opera talent so far ahead it has taken to this year to see exactly what Terracini’s vision for the company looks like. Diversity is everywhere. For certain reasons I’ve only been to a couple of shows, but deliberately (out of curiosity) they were ovetly the popular fare.

    Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour – La Traviata

    The Handa sponsored La Traviata presented on a floating stage just off Lady Macquarie’s Chair was a great event. Directed by Francesco Zambello and designed by Brian Thomson, this was the coming together of an elite art event in a popular context. And it totally worked. Same formula for the next two Sydney summers. Meanwhile, given it has the space for staging, Melbourne gets Wagner’s Ring Cycle directed by Neil Armfield and designed by Robert Cousins.

    Another breakthrough in Sydney is the current production of South Pacific. There is no reason why a good opera company can’t program good musicals – when apart from the kinds of voices required we are talking about the same form. And that precedent was set years ago anyway. We were never going to hear Joan Sutherland with her great gift for the bel canto style hang onto a Wagnerian pitchfork and blast us out of seats like Rita Hunter could do. Or verse visa.


    On this occasion, allow me the indulgence of taking me on trust. My readers are theatre people. If you want to see the best production of a musical Sydney as seen for a long while this is it. I know it’s expensive, but so is a lot of theatre these days. Maybe your folks are wondering what to give you for your birthday or an early Christmas present?

    Was chatting to a fellow arts lover in the supermarket this morning. Yes, I have been a good boy and done some laps in the Victoria Park pool, and after shopping, first thing I did when I got home was change Amos and Nitro’s kitty litter  (No not Glitter and Fluffy – I am sure they have their own people to do that). Ingredients purchased for healthy soup  to make once this is posted. All good we are a happy household here.

    My brother with me being carried – Buin on the southern tip of Bougainville – 1955.

    One of the points of discussion with my fellow connoisseur was the gap between art and life. Where I was born sits mid-centre of the map of the South Pacific that’s featured in this production. And the island on which this production is set looks nothing like the island we see here on stage. But that’s art: we tell lies to make the truth.

    There is so so much more I want to say about so many things on this site. I wasn’t expecting to get back to it so soon. But I owed it to Opera Australia in recognition of their support and generosity regarding  comp tickets. And to honour this lovely open-hearted production. So here I am starting again, for better or worse, from now.

    Kate Ceberano as Bloody Mary – photo Jeff Busby

    I will try to post more often, but that means fewer epic pieces. If there’s one thing you quickly learn about blogs is that they are hungry animals and can eat you alive if you don’t feed them enough or often enough. In returning, I do have plans to take the site in a somewhat different direction. Not dropping theatre – coz that is my life’s love. But re-conceiving the site to wrap that material in other layers. More to be revealed as time goes on.

    As a hint to one of my plans here’s a segue. Not only was I born on an island in the South Pacific, a mere ten years after the Pacific war had ended in the Americans decimating the coalescing Japanese fleet. But one of my favourite films  is set on an island in the South Pacific – and that is Paul Cox’s Molokai: the Story of Father Damien. It’s a brilliant film and for reasons I have never understood completely flopped. Not only did it virtually launch David Wenham’s acting career in the title role, but the cast includes Sam Neill, Leo McKern, Derek Jacobi, Peter O’Toole – and Kate Ceberano – this time as the Queen of Hawaii.

    Ensemble South Pacific – photo by Jeff Busby

    To  make another link. With the Europeans gone and a civil war in Bougainville for over 20 years, the little place I was born looks nothing like it did when my family was there. The locals have fled and the tiny medical outpost where I was born has been taken over by an abandoned colony of lepers. It was sad to see. Sadder than the Molokai movie. I will tell you more another day: there was a reason why I put up some pictures of where I grew up a few posts back. And it has to do with the clashing models of individualism (‘for the most important person in the world’) as opposed to community.

    PS: speaking of Terracini’s programing – one of the productions next year is going to employ the talents of Barcelona’s notoriously wild theatre troupe La fura dels baus (aka ‘the rats of the sewer’). I’ve seen three productions by this company – all mind-blowing experiences.

    PPS: If you want to read a very thorough and insightful review in the classic form (of reviewing I mean) – go check out South Pacific 0n Diana Simmonds‘ website Stage Noise where  musicals connoisseur and ex-SMH theatre critic, Bryce Hallett shows us all how it’s done.








    Posted by James Waites @ 1:22 pm

2 Responses

  • Julie Bates Says:

    Thank you Jim – as articulate and entrancing as ever and as usual makes one want to go to the theatre. I tried to get tickets for South Pacific but taking a person with serious mobility issues, I couldn’t get seats that would accommodate us for a matinee session. Don’t throw yourself out the window who will feed and change the litter of your beloved pussy cats. Perhaps the computer can go out the window but only if you can afford another…if you have IT probs I have the best ever IT helper person. I can give you his number if you need.

  • James Waites Says:

    Thanks Julie – kind words work – looking forward to next weekend xxj

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