Renowned conductor Timothy Sexton is set to take up the baton once again for the forthcoming major regional event, Opera in the Paddock. The program promises to be both stimulating and exhilarating. It is the participation of these leading professionals that has cemented the event’s reputation as a world-class event. This year, two performances will take place – the first in Lazenby Hall, UNE on Friday 24th March, and the second in the paddock at “Mimosa” Delungra on Saturday 25th March 2017.
You conducted your first Opera in the Paddock in 2009. This year will be the sixth time that you take up the baton. What is it about the event that keeps you coming back?
I really enjoy the opportunity to do things differently and to take part in events which communicate in a special way with audiences. Opera in the Paddock does that magnificently. I also love the chance to make great music with colleagues and share that with appreciative audiences. It takes music out to people in a very memorable way.
As the CEO and Artistic Director of the State Opera of South Australia, you are based in Adelaide, which is bursting at the seams with cultural activity. How important is it that events like Opera in the Paddock take place in rural Australia?
Everybody has the right to be able to access high quality cultural events. Access to culture is a birthright, no matter where you live. What we do with Opera in the Paddock is not elitist, but elite, in exactly the same way that we refer to athletes as being elite – i.e. artists at the top of their game. What better way to find the new June Bronhill (born in Broken Hill) or the new David Hobson (born in Ballarat) than to be out and amongst them, sharing that experience?
What sets rural and metropolitan audiences apart?
Rural audiences tend to be much less reserved, and are far quicker to express their pleasure (and perhaps their occasional displeasure!) than city audiences. That’s one of the things that makes it exciting – a rural performance becomes a type of unspoken dialogue between the stage and the audience, as you can immediately feel the audience’s mood and vibe. At times, it can be absolutely electric.
What do you enjoy most about spending time in the bush during Opera in the Paddock?
I was born in country South Australia and all my Australian ancestors were rurally based (farmers, railway station masters). Although my work is based in the city, I have lived in rural South Australia now for the last 32 years. For me, being in the bush is always like coming home. It’s not just about the environment, but about the people. Country people understand the concept of community. They live it every day, but it’s a way of thinking that city-based people can’t really comprehend. That sense of community is precious and something of which the whole world is desperately in need at the moment.
You have a passion for astronomy, including building your own telescope from scratch at the age of twelve, as well as having your own observatory at home. What is it like performing at Opera in the Paddock under the stars?
A bit distracting. I want to be looking up! But, I jest. The stars add that extra sense of space and magic to a performance, especially on a very still night. It reinforces the notion that although we, as a species, may be insignificant on a universal scale, we can produce something that is sublime and beautiful and which complements the majestic band of the Milky Way above.
As well as directing the State Opera of SA, you are also a prolific composer of more than 200 works, ranging from opera, to children’s theatre to choral works and film music. How do you find the time, and where does your inspiration come from?
Finding time is very difficult, especially with the demands of the opera company. So I’ve been somewhat less prolific since stepping into that role, but inspiration has a way of cutting through. Inspiration can come from anywhere and at any time. For me, compositions need time to gestate, so trying to snatch a clear hour or two here or there doesn’t work. You need to have dedicated clear time (two or three days in a row) for the ideas to form and mature and to have time to notate them properly.
Your achievements in music have been highly recognised, including receiving the SA Great South Australian of the Year in the Arts, as well as a Centenary Medal for Services to Music. Is there anything you feel that you would still like to accomplish?
I was very humbled in 2016 to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Adelaide. That was very special. While a Helpmann Award would be nice to win (I’ve been nominated twice), awards are not why I do what I do. Recognition is great, but the greatest satisfaction comes from creating something special. It’s the feeling of camaraderie and achievement you have with your peers when everything goes to plan and the whole work you create is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s when magic happens, and no award can begin to replicate the euphoria of magic.
Incidents such as a tenor swallowing a fly mid-performance have occurred at Opera in the Paddock in the past. Fortunately, the episode was superbly handled with a touch of burlesque, much to the amusement of the audience. Do you have a memorable moment that stands out for you?
Well, that’s probably the standout funny moment for me at Opera in the Paddock. I was there for that one, and that was both special and downright hilarious! I think that’s the same concert when the soloists in the second half came out in footy shorts and gum boots. The things I recall most clearly though, are the moments when that magic occurs and there is no barrier between the stage and the audience. It is at those moments that time stands still.
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