As so many Adelaideans still have reason to do, even now that it's getting on for seven years after his death, I blew a kiss last night in proper luvvie fashion (not my style at all as a rule) to the ghost of Don Dunstan, one of the most extraordinary politicians this country has ever seen.
Said ghost was hovering benevolently around the foyer of the Festival Theatre, mingling with the opening-night audience at the State Opera of South Australia's gorgeous production of La Traviata. Highly visible in the crowd were at least half a dozen (and that's just the ones my middle-aged eyes could still discern in the gloom) high-profile politicians and heads of government departments -- including Treasurer and attack dog Kevin Foley, who has rough edges that no amount of Verdi could realistically be expected to knock off.
I don't care whether they got anything out of it or not: it was just really good that they were there. And for the Festival Centre, for the high valuation that the city puts on the arts, and most of all the notion that opera's not just for high-end North Adders and Eastern Suburbs types, Old Adelaide Money and/or surgeons' wives (a notion that had a total stranglehold on Adelaide back in the 1960s), it's Dunstan we have to thank.
The first-night audience may have been awash with sequins and such, but it still had a lot more people in it than just the preening wives of rich blokes, most of whom wouldn't know their coloratura from their elbow -- though there was one such directly in front of us: a woman frocked up in a creation she was about fifteen years too old for, a truly extraordinary strapless floor-length gown with a sort of crinoline that massively inconvenienced the people on either side of her, talking mindless rubbish in a high, strident, nasal whine (the woman, not the frock).
But there were also lots of other assorted citizens: people who had obviously come straight from work, thoughtful-looking children, a startling number of young couples, and a hefty sprinkle of elderly European-looking women who had clearly seen many productions of this opera in their long lives and were looking forward to adding this one to their memory banks while silently critiquing all the while.
Home-grown soprano Kate Ladner, now living and working in Europe, was such a good Violetta that she made the rest of the cast look more ordinary than they would otherwise have done, which is always the problem when you have one supremely good cast member in any show. Fortunately Violetta is such a huge part -- I'm sure the main reason for the two intervals was to give the poor woman a rest, as she was onstage most of the time and singing for most of that -- that it didn't matter as much as it would in a more ensemble-type show.
The plot of La Traviata -- literally 'the woman who strayed', and the story on which Baz Lurhmann's Moulin Rouge was based -- is full of holes you could drive a truck through, and reinforced my longstanding conviction (a) that opera plots are essentially silly, and (b) that this does not matter. Watching the onstage events unfold last night, it occurred to me that, while nothing could be further from realism than opera, people nonetheless really do behave like this: greedy, generous, thoughtless, passionate, sacrificial and repentant by turns, and very often inconsistent and illogical as well.