The appointment of Patrick Nolan as Opera Queensland’s new head represents an important departure for that company, and possibly for the opera sector as a whole in this country. For while he has achieved many notable successes in directing opera over the last dozen years, he comes primarily from the world of physical theatre.
From 2009-2014 he was artistic director of Sydney-based Legs On The Wall, which fuses contemporary circus and physical theatre – it has made an international name for itself for particularly its outdoor performances and contribution to the London Olympics. Nolan turned that company around financially too, increasing revenue by an impressive 75 per cent.
After that he received an Australia Council Theatre Fellowship in 2015 “to support research into large scale outdoor performance and the relationship between extreme physicality and storytelling”.
Meanwhile, Nolan has forged a second career as an opera director. His credits there include Love in the Age of Therapy, co-created with Paul Grabowsky and Joanna Murray-Smith for Opera Australia in 2002, a semi-staged production of John Adams’ A Flowering Tree by John Adams for the 2009 Perth Festival, and the new Australian work Notes from the Underground by Jack Symonds for Sydney Chamber Opera in 2016.
Earlier this year, in February-March, he directed Janáček’s Katya Kabanova for Seattle Opera, and in September-October he directs the same work for New Zealand Opera.
Nolan then takes over from Lindy Hume as OperaQ’s artistic director, on 1 November.
“One of the things that I’m really interested in looking at is how as an opera company are contributing to the form of opera and the actual development of opera in Australia as an art form,” he told Limelight. “I’m really interested in both looking at the classics – and playing with the classics in a way that makes them timely and talks to us in the here and now – and also developing new works and exploring how we as an Australian music culture and opera culture create work that is born of us.”
Nolan’s wide-ranging experience and interest in new modes of presentation bode well for OperaQ’s future. Hopefully he can further rescue the company from the financial troubles it experienced over recent years – which led the National Opera Review last year to place it on notice for not meeting the criteria needed to retain its place as a major performing arts company.