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Opera Australia to debut ‘Desire’

Company stages first contempo U.S. work

SYDNEY — In its 51-year history, Opera Australia has never staged a contemporary American work. That will change in August with the Down Under premiere of Andre Previn’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” marking the OA debut of vet Aussie film director Bruce Beresford.

The production will star Kiwi baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes and Australia’s prima soprano Yvonne Kenny as Tennessee Williams’ most indelible characters, Stanley Kowalski and Blanche Dubois.

Running Aug. 2-29, “Streetcar” already looks like OA’s hottest ticket for 2007.

Pundits are keen to see what Beresford will bring to his staging of Previn’s work, which premiered at San Francisco Opera in 1998 to mixed reviews. Beresford has had little exposure as an opera helmer in his home country, where he is defined by a film career covering Hollywood Oscar winners “Tender Mercies” and “Driving Miss Daisy” and classics from the 1970s Australian new wave, such as “Breaker Morant” and “Don’s Party.”

Beresford’s parallel career as an opera director grew out of a chance meeting with Gian Carlo Menotti, founder of Italy’s Festival dei Due Mondi and its American offshoot, Spoleto Festival USA.

“He is so passionate about the art form,” says OA executive producer Stuart Maunder.

Beresford’s debut opera was Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West” for Menotti’s 1986 festival. Gigs with Portland Opera, Washington Opera, Los Angeles Opera and Houston Grand Opera followed. Back home, he directed “Elektra” for the State Opera of South Australia in 1991.

OA began courting Beresford several years ago, initially for “Sweeney Todd.” The company has a long history of recruiting guest artists from parallel genres. Baz Luhrmann has mounted several operas with the company, including “La Boheme,” which was restaged in 2004 at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles and also spawned a reworked Broadway version. Legit helmers Neil Armfield, Jim Sharman, Barrie Kosky, John Bell and Gale Edwards all have moonlighted with OA to solid critical response.

“The hard thing for OA is the planning cycle,” says Maunder, acknowledging the Australian culture of subsidized theater, opera and ballet. “Because of government funding, we can only plan two or three years ahead.”Some international opera companies are able to plan five years ahead. Given the constraints on OA, securing the key artists in “Streetcar” was a challenge.

“There’s so few singers,” Beresford says. “I hate doing operas where the cast doesn’t match, but we’ve struck it lucky. Everyone involved looks right for the part. Yvonne’s a very attractive woman of a certain age, which the production calls for, and Teddy’s a big, butch, handsome guy.”

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