Buzz off, Madama Butterfly. Vic Opera’s 2022 is a vision of the new – Sydney Morning Herald

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“Opera is a window on the marvellous,” says Victorian Opera artistic director Richard Mills. “And it teaches us the deepest things about ourselves.”
So what is there to learn from his 2022 season for the state’s major opera company, leaping out of the pandemic gate with an adventurous slate of undiscovered gems and world premieres that barely touches the comfortable canon?
Victorian Opera artistic director Richard Mills.Credit:Charlie Kinross
“I guess it depends on how you define comfort,” he says. “If you define comfort as the same old, same old recycling of the 19th century, of the same five operas, well, no. But I would find that extremely uncomfortable. The last thing I want to see is another Madama Butterfly.”
(Take that, Opera Australia, The Metropolitan Opera and The Royal Opera, all of whom programmed the Puccini stalwart for another spin in 2022).
The eight VO productions for 2022 begin with The Who’s eccentric, electrifying rock opera Tommy, rescued from the wreckage of the company’s 2021 plans. Then Malthouse’s inventive artistic director Matthew Lutton directs Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht and Elisabeth Hauptmann’s anti-capitalist musical comedy Happy End, best known for its songs Surabaya Johnny and Bilbao Song, performed by a killer cabaret line-up including Lucy Maunder and Ali McGregor.
VO’s successful 2019 production of The Selfish Giant returns, followed by the Australian premiere of family opera Il Mago di Oz (The Wizard of Oz) by contemporary Italian composer Pierangelo Valtinoni.
There will be a concert performance of Richard Strauss’ epic Elektra, then the premiere of The Butterfly Lovers – a legend of doomed lovers composed by Mills with a libretto by acclaimed young Singaporean playwright and poet Joel Tan, a co-production with Singapore’s acclaimed Wild Rice theatre and directed by its artistic director Ivan Heng.
The year concludes with another world premiere created by an all-Australian team: composer Graeme Koehne and librettist Anna Goldsworthy’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol.
Mills says he aimed for a program that grew from the social and political stories of the past two years.
He’s not omitting operatic classics out of any politically correct imperative. If a director had a convincing vision for a piece that was now considered “problematic”, says Mills, he’d certainly be interested.
But this year he was not concerned with re-interpreting any text. He was looking at renewing the art form.
“Everything I think in our world at the moment that we once deemed axiomatic is now open for question,” says Mills. “It’s time for a re-examination. And arts companies, they need to be awake to what’s going on in the world.
“You sometimes wonder if artistic directors ever read the paper … we’re a company that is open to new ideas, always. It comes back to this idea of what does an arts company do? Is it just put on a show? Or is it part of the national conversation about who we are as a people, what we are and what we can become?
“Yes, an opera company has to be a museum to some extent because it’s our public birthright to experience the great works in all their grandeur. But it also must put these works in the context of the evolution of the art form.”
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