When you think opera you think sand, waves and a starry sky, right? Maybe not – but after this new production from Opera Australia, everything you expect from a night at the opera will change.
Acoustics and weather are just the start of the problems faced when performing theatre outdoors but Opera Australia is taking this challenge to a whole new level – their new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute will be performed on the sandy shores of Greenmount Beach.
Sand in costumes is just the start, says director Michael Gow.
“Wind! Just the vagaries of the weather… seafoam. All of the things that nature can throw at you,” he says. “But around the world there are plenty of examples of outdoor performance, so it’s basically just trying it and learning from it.
“There’s a great sound designer working on it and a great lighting designer, they’re both used to the outdoor experience of the harbour.”
He’s talking about the previous performances of Opera on Sydney Harbour, a new initiative of Opera Australia that opens theatre to a whole new audience and inspired the beach setting for The Magic Flute.
“It was Lyndon Terracini’s idea, the artistic director of Opera Australia,” says Gow. “He wants to extend the appeal [of opera] to people who never thought of themselves as opera-goers at all. This is another version of the same kind of democratising of it all by putting it on a beach, which is such an Australian location.”
There are unexpected benefits to staging an opera on the beach, too.
“We’re actually using the view of the Gold Coast as a backdrop as well so you’ve got that vast, stretch of beach, high-rises and lights stretching off into the distance,” says Gow. “It’s a nice connection between the modern world we’re in and the world of the opera.”
Local singers from community choirs have been recruited for the chorus and lifesavers from the Kirra Lifesaving Club will appear as extras, giving a community connection for local audiences.
“They’re being heroic and looking after one of the major characters of the piece and honing their marching skills,” says Gow. “I’ll be keeping my eye out for the next Liam Hemsworth.”
Using the sand to the best advantage, Gow says the artistic direction for the show is to tap into the glamour of 1930s archaeologists discovering the tombs of ancient Egyptians.
“We had this weird Raiders of the Lost Ark fantasy that one morning we all got up and there was this ancient Egyptian temple on the beach,” says Gow. “The original opera does have references to ancient Egypt, hieroglyphics and ancient Egyptian gods so we thought we’d keep that but give it an Australian context.
“It’s got this slightly glamorous, period feel to it with the lifesavers in their period outfits. So it’s got that but with the context of 21st century Gold Coast, Australia; it’s a nice contrast.”
The Magic Flute plays three performances on 9 to 11 May at Greenmount Beach, Coolangatta. For tickets visit bleachfestival.com.au/events/read/opera-on-the-beach/
“It’s selling very well, I think people are intrigued by it,” says Gow. “It’s this mad amalgamation of experiences, I’m looking forward to bringing it all together and giving people a great night.”