Ed­i­tor

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile - Tim Dou­glas

For the briefest of mo­ments last Fri­day night, I thought I was see­ing things. Was that re­ally Ge­orge Bran­dis am­bling up to the mi­cro­phone to wax op­er­atic about the open­ing night of Car­men on Syd­ney Harbour? Sure enough, there at the Opera Aus­tralia lectern he ap­peared: the ghost of arts min­is­ters past. In 2015 Bran­dis was dumped as fed­eral arts min­is­ter in Mal­colm Turn­bull’s cab­i­net reshuf­fle, an ig­nominy that co­in­cided with the fall­out from his con­tro­ver­sial $105 mil­lion raid on the Aus­tralia Coun­cil and the estab­lish­ment of his short-lived Na­tional Pro­gram for Ex­cel­lence in the Arts. The se­na­tor was re­placed by Mitch Fi­field, a man who on his ap­point­ment to the high­est cul­tural gig in the land ad­mit­ted he hadn’t in re­cent mem­ory seen an opera. With Fi­field away on Fri­day, Bran­dis was given the job of talk­ing on be­half of the gov­ern­ment, rais­ing the eye­brows of many in at­ten­dance. I’d love to re­port any­thing of what was said, but the post-show mi­cro­phone had other ideas. It was on the blink, cut­ting in and out of au­di­bil­ity. The re­sult was a speech that bet­ter re­sem­bled some­one or­der­ing din­ner for a coachload of foot­ballers through a fast-food drive-through PA. It was a bizarre end to a big week for Bran­dis. Just that morn­ing he’d re­lented to a three-year or­der from the fed­eral court to re­lease his min­is­te­rial diaries, and days ear­lier the gov­ern­ment dumped the Cat­a­lyst arts pro­gram — the one in­sti­tuted by Fi­field to re­place Bran­dis’s Ex­cel­lence fund, which had been set up with redi­rected OzCo money. The de­ci­sion to can Cat­a­lyst and re­store $61m to the na­tional fun­der was met with danc­ing in the streets by some quar­ters of the arts fra­ter­nity, and Bran­dis re­mains a con­tentious fig­ure in the sec­tor. But, even as the mic skipped on Fri­day, the man known as Book­shelves pressed on with stac­cato-like sto­icism. The great irony is the sound in this sixth it­er­a­tion of Handa on Syd­ney Harbour is the best it has been. That is thanks to Tony David Cray, the Grammy-win­ning en­gi­neer re­spon­si­ble for pip­ing Bizet’s opera to the 3000-strong open-air crowd. There is no deny­ing the ap­peal of HOSH. Ticket sales are strong, and the pro­duc­tion is slick. OA artis­tic di­rec­tor Lyn­don Ter­racini could be for­given for wear­ing a smile each night as Car­men meets her tragic demise: Don Jose’s not the only one who knows how to make a killing on the harbour.

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