Artistic director, Opera Australia
Born in: He grew up in Sydney.
Home Town: Sydney
Lyndon Terracini is embarking on a revolution to make a night out at the opera fashionable again, starting with his $12.5 million outdoor extravaganza: La traviata on Sydney Harbour.
Opera Australia's outspoken artistic director has crafted a manifesto he hopes will see a younger, broader audience fill out the stalls. And if that comes at the expense of the stuffy elites, well that's just tough.
"I'm sure there will be people who want to closet opera in a conservatorium or in a university music department," Terracini tells The Power Index.
"That's not what it's about, it was never about that. Opera was a popular art form and it's now becoming a popular art form again, here in Sydney particularly. The cab driver said to me the other day: 'everybody's talking about the opera!'"
It's apt that the baritone singer and former festival director name checks Australia's largest city. Sydney is the site of one of the cornerstones of Terracini's self-described "big, bold and beautiful" vision for popular opera.
When The Power Index speaks to Terracini, it's just days after the glitzy A-list opening night of Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour (so-named after millionaire benefactor Dr Haruhisa Handa).
With most of the show's three-week run still to come, Terracini is a busy man and can only speak for a short amount of time. Still, you can hear the excitement in his voice when asked how the alfresco performance has been received so far.
"We couldn't have asked for it to go any better, 3000 people just leapt to their feet spontaneously at the end of the show. I've never seen that before," he says.
La traviata is the first production Opera Australia has undertaken outdoors on such an ambitious scale and Terracini isn't the only one hoping the dazzling harbour backdrop brings in a new set of opera lovers.
Destinations NSW, the tourism arm of the state government, is rumoured to have chipped in $6 million to help fund the Verdi spectacular, with its floating stage, enormous suspended chandelier and nightly fireworks display.
As part of the funding, Opera Australia has been told it must meet targets for international and interstate visitors. It's something Terracini is confident they will do, telling The Power Index that ticket sales are already at $4.5 million (with a target of $6 million):
"A lot of people are saying it's an historic evening for not only Opera Australia, but opera in this country," he says.
History is something that otherwise doesn't seem to bother Terracini all that much. He has made no secret of his plans to deshackle opera from its "elitist" clubby image and open the artform up to a wider audience.
Terracini was appointed artistic director in 2009 after his predecessor Richard Hickox suffered a heart attack and died. At the time Opera Australia was facing heavy criticism for allegedly sidelining mature singers, as well as letting standards drop.
"No one usually defines what it is to be an artistic director, what's the job description?" Terracini says.
"It's actually a lot more than just casting singers or directors and so on or even choosing repertoire. An artistic director needs to have ideas and know how to implement those ideas."
He hasn't been short on ideas for what opera look and sound like. During last year's Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address, Terracini criticised a "small group of people ... who feel that their views are the only opinions of real importance" and advocated for operatic programming to be "popular without being populist".
What all this means for the future of opera is still a little unclear. Terracini has said he wants to put on "opera events", which means Broadway-style music theatre, family-friendly shows (a cut-down version of Mozart's The Magic Flute by Broadway producer Julie Taymor premiered in Sydney recently) and "spectacular new productions".
Critics say Terracini's focus on the spectacle of the "opera experience" may come at the expense of substance and favouring popular classics could stymie the fostering of up-and-coming local operatic talent.
His program this year features Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway musical South Pacific and Erich Korngold's Die tote Stad (with 3D holograms and surround sound), while next year will see an ambitious staging of Wagner's epic four-night Ring Cycle in Melbourne.
But what a move to popular opera may not mean, according to the man himself, is repeat business.
"I don't care if they don't come into the Opera House to see anything else," he says frankly when asked of the desired flow-on effect of La traviata on Sydney Harbour.
"It may be that some of them might go and see something else we do, if they do great. It's about providing enough choice and having a balance in everything you're presenting so you can connect with as wide a demographic and audience as possible."
Terracini also says Opera Australia needs to start justifying its generous annual government funding, worth more than $20 million, a figure which has become a sticking point for critics who say the company lacks a connection to the wider community.
"In a democratic society I don't think its appropriate for a very small number of people to be enjoying events that are paid for by the majority," he says.
Terracini's love of music was fostered during his childhood growing up on the beaches of Manly in Sydney, where he played brass in Salvation Army bands (his grandparents were officers) while learning to play several other instruments.
Soon after university he became a renowned operatic baritone singer and toured all over the world for more than 30 years. After that he went on to start up and also direct a series of festivals, including the Brisbane Festival, before he was tapped on the shoulder to run the program at Opera Australia.
"It's not just me, it's the whole company," Terracini says when asked if he thinks he has any influence.
"It's about all of us being focused on the audience and making sure that we're in tune with the audience that represents 21st century Australia."