”"I was drawn to the idea of directing the work as an opera, curious to explore new pathways to tell this iconic Australian story on the stage.”Joseph MitchellDirector - Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
Widely recognised as Australia’s most well-known and loved play, Ray Lawler’s Summer of the 17th Doll is quintessential Australian theatre. The Mills/Goldsworthy opera adaptation successfully retains the core story and character arcs from the original playscript in a paired back libretto, but at the same time builds upon the narrative with an evocative score and a distinct libretto which transports audiences back to Melbourne, 1953.
Having seen the theatrical version numerous times, I was drawn to the idea of directing the work as an opera, curious to explore new pathways to tell this iconic Australian story on the stage. Opera as a form lends itself to more heightened melodrama on both the comedic and tragic sides of story comparatively to the much more naturalistic form of a dramatic stage play. But in the case of this adaptation, the music and libretto opt to walk a fine line of balancing the realistic demands of the original playscript alongside a decidedly refreshing decision to carefully share the inner monologues of the main characters through stylistic passages. This approach ensures the work can be layered with the dynamic musical range required to elevate the story to operatic heights which interrogate the hopes, dreams, fantasies and fears of the characters as the narrative tilts towards its final tragic conclusion while also maintaining moments of lightness and comedic humour throughout. The result is an opera with its own unique and powerful identity, elevating it above the status of a straight forward adaptation of the original work and standing on its own as a great Australian opera.
Mills’ music is rich in imagery as it seamlessly weaves its way through a narrative of longing, hope, romance, conflict and tragedy while still remaining grounded in the time and place required of the original work. Drawing upon jazz and dance hall influences from the first half of the 20th Century, the opera immediately creates a clear sense of time and place. But as soon as this recognisable world is established musically, the score begins to layer in many complex motifs that shift tonally, introducing us to the inner-worlds of the main characters, providing a counter-balance between a surface layer of optimism, romance and hope alongside the anxiety, insecurity and fears deeply rooted in each of the characters.
To support the richness and complexity of the score, we have decided to stage this new production using a period-accurate and realistic set design so that the visual and aural worlds sit harmoniously together. This also supports the libretto which has a stripped-back narrative and chooses to delve much deeper into the inner worlds of the characters, with moving arias and powerful ensembles in stylised moments breaking away from the realism aurally but keeping the visual cues to evoke the rich and descriptive world of Lawler’s original work.
This new production of Summer of the 17th Doll premiering for audiences in Adelaide features an incredible line up of Australia’s best opera singers and a wonderful creative team behind the scenes. And finally, it has been an inspiration for everyone involved to have the composer of the work Richard Mills return and conduct this production, he is undoubtedly one of Australia’s greatest composers and conductors.
We have thoroughly enjoyed rehearsing and preparing this new work for Adelaide audiences and I hope that you enjoy this new production.