Duality is a major theme in 'Boojum!', an Australian opera written by twins about the double life of 'Alice In Wonderland' creator Lewis Carroll.
It is a fitting show, then, for OzAsia Artistic Director Joseph Mitchell to return down the rabbit hole to his previous life as a theatrical director.
The work of Lewis Carroll has infiltrated almost every crevice of our popular culture. His 1865 novel, 'Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland' has been made into almost three dozen films or television programmes, comic strips, a ballet and even an opera by folk troubadour Tom Waits.
Carroll’s imagination has even inspired physicists, with the word boojum having a meaning in the physics of superfluidity, which is apt, because Lewis, whose real name was the Reverend Charles Dodgson, was hard to pin down; a mathematician, an Anglican deacon, perhaps an epileptic, a man more comfortable in the world of children.
In the 1960s, the Australian twins and Lewis Carroll fan boys Martin and Peter Wesley-Smith began work on their opera, 'Boojum!', which endeavoured to unravel the mystery of the famed author. The show, which the State Opera of South Australia premiered in 1986, introduces audiences to a side of the 'Alice' creator that will surprise, Director Joseph Mitchell says.
“What I found really interesting when I looked at the notes of the original production that was staged 35 years ago is that although we think we know a lot about Lewis Carroll and the real and fictional 'Alice', actually there’s so much that’s not in the public consciousness.”
“I felt refreshed and invigorated by looking deeply into the original story and really learning about the man, the Reverend Charles Dodgson, with Lewis Carroll being the pen name, and the kind of never-ending fluidity about what is real and what is imaginary throughout his life.”
Joseph will be making his operatic directorial debut with 'Boojum!', though he possesses a wealth of experience in the director's chair, having tertiary qualifications in the craft and ten Queensland Theatre Productions under his belt.
Having firmly established himself at the helm of OzAsia Festival, Joseph jumped at the invitation to return to directing a show, as he explains.
“This is a really wonderful work in terms of bringing potentially new audiences into opera for the first time because it does a very strong theatrical hook, in terms of narrative and staging, but at the same time. It’s a crazy collection of songs in what you could describe as a nonsense opera.”
The show, which stars tenors Adam Goodburn and Brock Roberts and soprano Joanna McWaters, is the first in the series of Lost Operas Of Oz. Given his role at OzAsia, Joseph is passionate about breathing new life into this forgotten work.
“One of the things that resonated to me, wearing my double hat as director of OzAsia and directing this show is that I do think that it’s important that we just don’t look back towards Europe and the classic European operas as the staple diet that we experience; Australia has a great history of creating its own works and it’s so important now that we tell our own stories and let those stories become part of our canon.”
'Boojum!' plays the Dunstan Playhouse (Adelaide Festival Centre) on 5-6 July.