Sun, Surf and Cinema

The 10th annual Bondi Short Film Festival cemented its place in the festival calendar last month, with sell out screenings and a swanky award ceremony hosted by The Chaser’s Chris Taylor.

John Marsh took out best film honours for his production Happenstance. Bondi filmmaker David Ford rounded out the list of 14 featured films with his documentary Lillie. Ford echoed the sentiments of many when he said Bondi Shorts had come of age.

The festival has cultivated a reputation for showcasing independent home-grown cinema in a region quickly becoming a hotspot for budding writers and filmmakers.

“The beach was a great backdrop. I also liked the initiative to keep all content Australian. It felt homely,” Ford said.

Sydney-based director Christopher Kezelos took out two awards, for best script and best design, for his stop motion animation, Zero.

“This was my first year at Bondi Shorts and I was pleasantly surprised,” said Kezelos. “It really showed the big boys how a festival should be run.”

Zero has scored accolades at film festivals around the world for its unique design aesthetic and compelling narrative. A staunch advocate of short films, Kezelos likes the time limit.

“I think it forces you to create a tighter story,” he said.

Swedish-born director Tobias Andersson collected the best cinematography award for his film Pop. Set in the Snowy Mountains, Pop takes a poignant look at the relationship between father and son.

“The story is inspired by my own childhood and joining my father for rabbit hunts in the north of Sweden,” said Andersson. “We rarely caught anything when I was with him and I couldn’t help feeling it was because of me.”

Now settled in Bondi, Andersson is familiar with Australia’s film festival culture and how it inspires both competition and camaraderie.

“It wasn’t so much about the competition but more about meeting your peers.”

Author: Sheenal Singh
Posted: Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Original Article >

Disjoin

n’t even have t
he memo
ry of an ex love
r to fill the gap
ing hole t
hat needs secure
ity and the reassure
ring touch that the
re is so
meone in this mess
y, confuse
sing world that love
s me, knows me, a
nd would cry if I did
n’t come home to
night. W
hat should I Do

Stronger

I wish that you were stronger
That hearts could bend, not break
To stay a little longer
And see what we could make

Germinate this friendship seed
Buried under words that bleed
From a calling crying heart
Branded by your mark

You spoke in just a whisper
The last I heard was silence
Open spurn is crisper
Than withdrawn cold defiance

And so I enter knowledge
Of a place already known
Through old letters forage
With none to call my own

Why must I sit in exile
Anna don’t you know
My heart is slow to travel
My trust needs time to grow

I wish that I were stronger
To know just who I am
Reveal my heart as fonder
And grasp your parting hand

In Your Eyes

In your eyes I see your smile
Photograph speaks a
Gentle heart un-presuming
Not needy for attention
But seeking connection

With my eyes closed
I see yours open
Baby-wide with innocent regard
Black-lined blue set on
Oyster pearl

Behind your eyes I feel I know you
Or wish perhaps to trust you so
And from the inside
Look out through your eyes
See how you see my soul

Beauty is a Choice

Perhaps it reflects an unfulfilled desire. Given I’ve really only had about one or two failed relationships, I wondered how on earth I settled on making a film about love.

The film turned over in my head as I lay in bed the night before the shoot. The culmination of five months of hectic development and preproduction boiled down to an uncanny stillness, like the serene lapse in activity just before you board an international flight: with all preparation finalised, you just enjoy the inflight movies (assuming you have enough legroom). That things are moving smoothly can be unnerving.

In the darkness I reflected on my choice of subject and style over various years and projects – in my writing and storytelling, my photography, films, in my poetry. I realised beauty was a recurring theme in my worldview, and henceforth, my creative outlets. It’s something I look for: a desire for life and relationships… to be wonderful.

One of the film school staff criticised this aspect of my work during pre-production. We were talking about image creation. One of the images in my film was a minimalist, pristine backyard: glass railings around a deck with an infinity pool on Sydney Harbour’s southern headland. My Indian protagonist was standing at the glass railing on the edge of the cliff, looking out to the ocean.

She challenged me to put my Indian girl in shabby clothes rather than make her look beautiful. The teacher made the generalisation that my photographs are “too beautiful” and I should look for contrast instead. I think I was more intrigued by what seemed to come across as an evaluation of my instincts rather than an embellishment to a film – someone who had seen my films and photographs and found them wanting. Superficial perhaps.

I understood what she meant, though felt misrepresented. In my film, I was constantly trying to pull the drama of the love back into the characters’ weakness rather than strength. I hate untested romance; I hate sentimentality devoid of actuality.

The analogy I gave to my actors was that as the son of a rich white man, the Australian male character was the “King”, with all the power, wealth and security that Sydney’s eastern suburbs entail. As the immigrant about to be deported, the female character was the powerless peasant girl.

To stay where he was and expect her to come to him would present him as selfish and arrogant, given her circumstances. The king had to step down from his throne, leave his “crown” and entitlements, and meet her where she was. He would win her, not by being the all-conquering Australian male bulldogging his way through, but by exposing his heart and insecurities and by making himself as vulnerable as she was. For when she is deported and they are thousands of miles apart, their strength to continue to pursue love had to come not from his money or privileged position, but from their emotional investment, the entwining of their hearts (to borrow from the film’s title) and the knowledge that each had sacrificed their world to pursue the other’s.

I am not unaware of the ugliness of this world. I have seen marriages fall apart, the powerlessness of teenagers hating and destroying themselves, youthful idealism die, careers blow like chaff.

I’ve travelled to places where people live in extreme poverty and are torn apart by conflict. The Brasilian favela that I lived in during 2007 was unpretty, yet filled with beauty. It was a hard and dangerous life and the police were the enemy, but it contained people who made the time a delight. I don’t want to romanticise the favelas much more than that, for as an outsider I can dip in and out of these experiences… suffice to say: beauty can always be found if you choose to see it.

Insights about oneself are interesting because they often counter expectations. Beauty as a recurring theme in my work is one I’d personally reject to some degree in a media culture super-saturated with the portrayal of perfection… in body image, lifestyle, relationships, finance, property, attitudes.

Yet the pursuit of beauty is not a bad objective. It just depends on what you prioritise as “beautiful”.

It’s like a man’s love for his woman (he says in his grandfather’s voice…). It’s easy to say he should love her above all else, but what action does that love take? She’d like you to have a healthy body, but I think maintaining a buff bod is a little further down the list of importance than connecting with her emotionally. I know people who have damaged their relationship because their pursuit of the perfect body has tapped into their partner’s insecurities and pushed her away.

Even moments of death, when your world is ripped apart, can contain beauty, should you maintain that perspective. This poem about my grandfather’s passing last year reflects the paradox of such events.

I think we need beauty – true beauty. The capacity to choose to remain tender whilst heartbreak rages.

The pursuit of beauty carries with it the ability to transcend the world’s present state – not to deny the existence of its imperfections, but the optimism to strengthen our passage towards the dream: the way things could be.

Tears

Back to back they sat in wind-whipped sand, beating hearts to bumpy spines. Her brown hair streamed and stung his cheek. Twisting his elbow, his hand found its way to her lap and she met it with locked fingers.

His thumb stroked absently back and forth across her knuckle until she squeezed his hand gently.

Stop thinking.

I’m trying, he answered. The waves crashed. Do you think it will ever pass?

She dropped his hand and swung around to straddle his lap. And what if it doesn’t? Her brown eyes penetrated his, leaving him childish. He tried to hide under his usual cheery composure, but not today.

Today his heart ran thin and he dropped back into the sand. Grains pressed into his hair and down the collar of his sweater and he didn’t care. His gaze diverted to the shoreline, despite burning to level with hers.

She sized him up from above. Her man. An oversized boy. She bent down, arms folded across his chest, her nose and inch from his cheek.

Her warm breath contrasted the ocean breeze, commanding attention. He returned from the shoreline to her wide eyes, so close his focus was soft. The weight of her body pressed into his and he received it.

I don’t know how to word it.

She felt him pulling away again. I know. Or else you would have said it already. She took the palms of his hands in hers and pinned them to the ground above his head in surrender.

I don’t want to be like this…

I know that. Her eyes remained steady on him.  And it’s ok. She nudged him sideways and he lay on top.

She faced him squarely. Patiently. Presupposing nothing. And with those constant eyes he was knocked breathless, until he had to sit up. Not to escape to the shore again, but to comprehend what lay before him.

It doesn’t bother you?

I don’t like it. But I understand it’s there.

With those words, he felt the first of it begin to seep from him. Unresolved. But it drained from him unresolved like a swing-set unraveling its twisted chain.

She brought his head to her breast and held him as his tears ran wet and unawares to him.

And the weight of his body pressed into hers, and she received it.

Sometimes a yearning enters me, like an illuminating bubble that soap-shines and sparkles energy into an otherwise too-familiar grinding drive to stack box upon box, deed upon deed, believing that someone will love me through these words. But writing is my lover, my solace; patient with my idealism, delighting in my childlike take on the world. Writing is my mentor, the one who expands my capacity to imagine a future worth living.

Sometime Beautiful

something beautiful
it’s something real
the time i fall apart
you will roll me into one

you took me by my knee
a touch that broke my lips
vacant stare was cracked and
racked with breath reentering there

laid between layers
subject to another’s will
infant aged dependent still
waiting, waiting on sometime

somehow i will hold
somehow i will stay
and some times will remain
though alltime be removed

frozen space illusionary real
truth of past that passed me now
yet captured in believer’s eye
will never fade, will never die

liquid space the vision of past
heralds history best not forgot
that who i was now who you are
and greater still you’re called to be

v-wake legacy disperses, see
river rapids raid my velocity
now failed motor carried on current
to a shore beyond my rudder’s reach

sometime is coming
sometime will not relent
same steady progression on all
takes and makes that vacant stare

but held and touched and loved and cared
will heal the tears inevitably due
will make sometime beautiful
make sometime richer between me and you

Sweet To Me

You will always be sweet to me,
for I met you and know you as sweet.
Whatever confusing messy turns your life takes
I know your heart glows for truth and goodness,
however stained and remote it may feel.
You are walking the dark side
but not as a wanton child.
Rather, you’re experiencing the world in its stark reality
And painfully building a new language
that will give expression to a faith
that is complex, deep and compassionate.

Aussie Cosi more subversive than sexist, says Sharman

Original Article >
Bryce Hallett
November 18, 2009

Director Jim Sharman aims to mine the emotional depths of Mozart’s opera.

BORN into the world of travelling sideshows, Jim Sharman – the director who captivated audiences with HairJesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Picture Show – is attempting to unearth the contradictory emotions and uneasy truths at the core of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte.

“It has been conceived in a burst of confetti,” says Sharman of his starkly expressive staging for Opera Australia. ”I want to communicate both the surface and substance of the piece. Usually you get one or the other. There is a brash theatrical side and a poetic side which can prove elusive.”

Sharman has spent many months investigating the life and times of Mozart and his librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, with whom he also wrote The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. “Their work revealed the yearning, humanity and wisdom beneath the lightness and artifice,” he says.

Early in its history, Cosi fan tutte was denounced for its morals and misogyny, notably by one Berlin critic who described it as “the silliest rubbish in the world; it only gets an audience because of the splendid music”.

Sharman says it is a popular misconception to dismiss the opera as easy listening. “It’s a serious comedy driven by betrayal; not just the young women but the men as well,” he says. ”It’s confronting and, I think, emotionally subversive.”

Sharman is very much the tribal elder on the set of Cosi. More a paternalistic cajoler than autocrat, he likes nothing better than young artists venturing ideas and taking risks, much as he did in his theatrical adventures in the ’70s.

The production, opening at the State Theatre tomorrow, was to have been his second collaboration with the OA’s late music director, Richard Hickox. Hickox had planned to join forces with Sharman after the success of their revival of Benjamin Britten’sDeath in Venice in 2006. They felt that the time was ripe for a popular and sophisticated interpretation of Cosi fan tutte.

Sharman began to recruit talented, open-minded practitioners and performers. His hand-picked creative team includes Belvoir Theatre’s new director, Ralph Myers (set), Gabriela Tylesova (costumes), Damien Cooper (lighting) and Joshua Consandine (choreographer).

They have conjured a fluid, minimalist, playful void – Myers likens his set to a loudhailer – to display a new generation of Mozart singers who, in Sharman’s view, promise to be the company’s great future singers. They include Sian Pendry, Hye Seoung Kwon and Tiffany Speight, alongside Henry Choo and Jose Carbo.

The production has been dubbed “Aussie Cosi” by actor/video cameraman David Ford on YouTube. The show’s pulse and flavour is distinctly Australian, yet there are passing nods to 18th century conventions to avoid anything too kitsch.

Early on there was vague talk of a barbecue in the Japanese wedding and party scene in the performance. The ceremony, inspired by a video wedding in the Botanic Gardens, remains but the barbecue idea was jettisoned.

Baritone Carbo plays the world-weary manipulator Don Alfonso, who sets the masquerades in motion. “I see the character as more avuncular than arch and the way Jim is approaching the piece feels natural and organic,” he says. ”He is trusting and affords all the singers the freedom and scope to develop [a character].”

Cosi fan tutte opens at the State Theatre tomorrow.

Sydney’s up and coming actors tell it like it is

BY MELINDA WILLS MCHUGH

Melinda Wills McHugh caught up with three local up-and-comers to found out why they do it.

Daniel Lissing:

“I really needed that coffee,” Daniel Lissing, 27, said as he waited to board his 7am flight. “I finished a gig at midnight and was up again at five.” A musician and actor, Lissing juggles playing three nights a week at Sydney establishments Sidebar and Equilibrium as well as corporate gigs and television and film work.

He arrived back from LA three weeks ago, and today he’s travelling to a three-day shoot for a Heaven Ice Cream television commercial.

“When I did the audition, I didn’t think I was right but I ended up getting it. That’s the thing with auditions – you never know. From there it was all very quick. It was confirmed and two days later, here I am.”

His first role was in 1988 when he scored a 50-worder in Looking for Alibrandi. Since then he’s appeared in many television commercials, won guest roles in Underbelly: a Tale of Two Cities (9) and Packed to the Rafters (7), and taken the lead in a 2008 short film Multiple Choice, directed by Michael Goode.

Although commercials and guest roles are a good source of income, they are not constant, so Lissing’s bread and butter comes from his gigs.

A gifted musician – he sings, writes songs and plays guitar. But he’s the first to admit that following his passion has its downsides.

“Unfortunately I’ve chosen a career that’s really tough to have true longevity and financial success. There are a lot of actors and musicians out there.

‘‘But for me, it’s not about being on TV, it’s about the work. I get such a buzz being on set and I know this is what I was meant to do. Same with music.

“If I had an opportunity to write, record and release an album – that would be great. But I know how much work is involved, as well as luck and patience.”

At 18, Lissing was in a band which later broke up, but his manager at the time gave him a piece of paper with five words scrawled on it.

“He called it the ‘Five P Rule’. The five Ps are positivity, perseverance, patience, persistence, pleasure … actually I can’t remember, I think that’s wrong. I just made the last two up … but anyway words along those lines,” he said.

David Joshua Ford:

At 191cm tall David Joshua Ford was hard to ignore and when we first met in the foyer of a University of Technology building I couldn’t help commenting on it. “Yeah, I get that all the time,” he said. So it came as no surprise to learn that he’s been working as a model for the past two years.

But today he’s auditioning for the role of Brendan in White Elephant, a graduating short film to be shot later in the year. It doesn’t pay anything but it would be a good addition to his show reel and if entered into a short film festival it could potentially elevate his acting status. If he does get the role it will be his fourth short film this year. “Many of the short films I’ve been involved in I’ve found on a casting website. But I always pick my scripts very carefully. White Elephant’s script was appealing and I have a feeling that the quality of this production will be very good.”

At 25, Canberra-raised Joshua Ford has already achieved more than most people twice his age. To model and actor he can also add presenter, producer, writer and photographer to his list of accomplishments. From TV presenting roles (including ABC2’s travel show Fanging It); a role on a Maybelline International TV commercial; a producer and presenter on Channel 31’s Scout TV; a photographer for Sony Tropfest 08; a writer/director for the 2006 short film (and Hope Awards finalist) Sacred Space – the list goes on.

He’s soon asked to deliver Brendan’s two lines. It’s not much to work on but the director knows what he’s looking for and Joshua Ford’s impressive bio should fill in the gaps. “I don’t know if I got that one or not, it’s hard to tell,” he said later. “Sometimes you think you go well and don’t get a call back, while other times it’s the complete opposite. The knockbacks are hard, particularly when you know you’ve done well but they’re considering someone else for the role based on their look.’‘

With an income from modelling and TV presenting, Joshua Ford’s next gig is a role in Cosi fan Tutte at the Sydney Opera House (until October 29). “It’s the ultimate crossover role of videographer and actor. I’m one of the characters on the stage and the stuff that I’m shooting will be projected onto the back of the stage,” he said.

Kym Thorne:

Kym Thorne was running through her lines for her Scrubs audition tape in a Surry Hills studio. Her American accent was flawless and hearing her you’d think she was born and bred in the US, not Australia. When she saw me she broke from character, said hello in her Aussie accent and welcomed me to her audition.

Thorne was taping two very different scenes for Scrubs – they’re both fast and funny, and her comedic timing was brilliant. Her face held a wide range of expressions and everything seemed to move, including her eyebrows. “Hold on,” she said. “I’ve just got to put some glossaroony on, then I’m going to chuck in a bit of Oziness into the next one, just for fun.” She started the scene again and improvised. Afterwards we strolled through the streets of Surry Hills and I asked her how she thought her audition tape would go. “Well I’ve been reading for US projects for just over a year now and have been working on my American accent with a voice coach. I haven’t done a lot of comedy but I really enjoy it. It can be a genre that’s really difficult if you’re not used to it as it’s a very fast tempo.’’ Now that the preparation and audition is down on tape, all Thorne can do is wait. It could be days, weeks or even months. At 22, Thorne seems older than her years and while studying at Edith Cowan University in her hometown of Perth, her first acting role was the lead in the 2006 Western Australian Academy of Professional Arts project, Busted. But it was only in January when she won the lead in the feature film Wasted on the Young that she got serious about acting.

Thorne and Lissing have won the lead and supporting role, respectively, in Callous – a new feature film. Lissing is also writing and performing the score and theme music. Written and directed by Alan Lock, Callous is being shot in Sydney.

Original Article…

Cosi fan tutte

Original article >

September 22nd 2009 8:32 am | Theatre | Review – By Diana Simmonds

Joyous wizardry of music and theatre

CosiCosi fan tutte, Opera Australia at the Sydney Opera House, 17 September-29 October 2009; www.opera-australia.org.au. Images here by Branco Gaica.

JIM SHARMAN is a name that immediately causes a frisson of interest and excitement when announced in tandem with the words “new production”. And especially when it’s a new production of a favourite warhorse such as Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte.

Sharman the showman – or shaman, take your pick – is a cerebral yet joyously visual wizard of theatre. He is still best known for groundbreaking musicals Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar and, most significantly, The Rocky Horror Show (then the movie adaptation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but also in his portmanteau of credits are such productions as Voss and Death in Veniceplus the most telling of the Patrick White theatrical canon. Glimpses of all are to be found inBlood and Tinsel his memoir, published by Melbourne University Press and highly recommended.

So, that’s what underpins the creative thinking behind this new production of , an opera first staged in 1790, a year before Mozart’s premature death.

And Cosi needs some underpinning in the 21st century because it’s what could be termed aproblematic piece. In essence, a couple of young men, Ferrando (Henry Choo) and Guglielmo (Shane Lowrencev) are goaded by an older, more cynical man, suave operator Don Alfonso (Jose Carbo) into trying to prove to themselves and each other that their true loves will be faithless hussies the minute their backs are turned.

Given that Cosi is subtitled “The School for Lovers”, it’s debatable what the quartet is supposed to – and does – learn. Ferrando and Guglielmo are officers, about to strap on swords and go off to war. Their tearful girlfriends, Dorabella (Sian Pendry) and Fiordiligi (Rachelle Durkin) swear eternal love and constancy and are offended by the suggestion that either might waver. Don Alfonso, aided and abetted by the pragmatic Despina (Tiffany Speight) knows better and bets to win on their weakness.

Boys being boys – and, let’s face it – boys knowing all too well how they would behave in similar circumstances, take the bet, then assume disguises and set out to do the dirty on each other and their girls. So, when the girls eventually succumb to temptation and Despina’s sageadvice that, as blokes have known for millennia, love and sex are not the same thing, the lads have their prejudices confirmed and – one could argue – learn nothing.

For their part, Dorabella and Fiordiligi learn that in keeping with the patriarchal constructs of all the best opera, the status quo will prevail: bad girls or lower class girls will pay the price and society’s norms will be upheld. (Think La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, La Traviata etc.) The best they can hope for, therefore, is to be truly sorry for behaving like young blades and, if they’re lucky, their young blades will deign to forgive them and True Love will be theirs once more.

Sharman’s cast is beautifully balanced in this dubious endeavour: Lowrencev is tall and gangly – and, when in disguise with lank dark locks, uncannily resembles art and philanthropy maven Brian Sherman, (who was in the opening night audience). Yet Lowrencev is a fine vocal and visual foil for Choo: a spunky chunk whose tenor voice would make an angel swoon. Similarly, Pendry and Durkin are thoroughly modern young opera singers: they are plausible as the local hot chicks, and they act well; their voices intertwining in moments of harmonic loveliness. While as the saucy sceptic Despina, Tiffany Speight is a deservedly confident scene-stealer and the comedic heart of the piece.

Ironically, if there is a weak link in the line-up it’s Jose Carbo. He’s simply too attractive, visually and vocally, to totally convince as the world-weary bastard Don Alfonso ought to be. If anything, it’s hard to suppress the thought that the women would be way better off making a play for him rather than sticking with their coltish boyfriends.

For modern audiences, well some of us anyway, there are a few problems with the idea of Cosias a mere romp and whimsical depiction of the battle of the sexes. There is a core of misogyny and misanthropy beneath the frothy surface that can and should be addressed. Sharman throws up some interesting diversionary tactics through the design and costumes concept. Gone is any hint of the Enlightenment elegance and deception of the old Oberle/Jarfeldt production. Instead there are layer upon layer of observers – of The Gaze. (Pause here to check out your visual and feminist theory text books.)

The audience gazes at the action on stage, a roving video camera (actor/video cameraman David Ford) enables a directorial gaze at specific aspects of the action; a tiny icing sugar couple on a traditional multi-tiered wedding cake gaze at the antics of the wedding party and are mirrored in a Japanese tourist wedding couple whose fate it is to gaze (and learn?) while simultaneously being the object of the audience gaze. For most of Cosi the chorus is also in the position of observer – at a tenuously staged wedding celebration, upstage, as the lovers and their teasers go about the business of fickleness downstage. And so it goes. It’s a disconcerting, unsettling series of usually unconsidered human traits which suddenly become disconcerting and unsettling when the objectivity of The Gaze is turned on them.

In this way substance is suggested and toyed with in a mainly pleasingly distracting fashion, but that’s as far as it goes. In a recent interview with Bryce Hallett (SMH) Sharman said, “It’s a serious comedy driven by betrayal, not just the young women but the men as well. It’s confronting and, I think, emotionally subversive.” Yes, but a funny thing happened on the way to realising that thought and it somehow disappeared in a finale of social power restored. (Commentator and Stagenoise contributor Caroline Baum has noted that in Jonathan Miller’s recent London production of Cosi the closing moments see the lovers acknowledge reality and depart in four separate directions.) Now that’s subversion.

Absence of profound subversion and thoughts aside, Sharman’s creative team has conjured a determinedly fresh interpretation of the opera, which was long overdue and welcome. It is sung in English in a quirky, irreverent translation of da Ponte’s original by Jeremy Sams that well suits the overall intent. The orchestra, under Simon Hewett (out of Simone Young by Stuart Challender) is sprightly and responsive to the demands of Mozart and the singers. Costume designer Gabriela Tylesova has gone to town on a succession of extravagant and witty feasts for the eye. She has heeded Sharman’s call for colour and movement and the contrast with Ralph Myers simple, steeply raked, white abstract set is arresting.

Ultimately, however, the production belongs to the singers and in this instance the six principals, Tiffany Speight, Jose Carbo, Henry Choo, Sian Pendry, Rachelle Durkin and Shane Lowrencev, can and do pick up and and carry the weight with ease and sure delight. It’s a pleasure to spend three hours in their company and the freshly minted spontaneity on stage is a tribute to them and Jim Sharman.

Cosi fan tutte conceived in a burst of confetti

ORIGINAL ARTICLE →

Bryce Hallett
September 16, 2009

JIM SHARMAN jumps to his feet and scuttles up a steeply-raked floor that skateboarders would covet. The slope stands in the centre of Marrickville Town Hall’s grand assembly chamber where the showman’s modern take on Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte is taking shape.

Born into the world of travelling sideshows, the theatre and opera director who captivated audiences with Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Picture Show is attempting to unearth the contradictory emotions and uneasy truths at the core of the opera buffa’s seductive score. “It has been conceived in a burst of confetti,” says Sharman of his starkly expressive staging for Opera Australia. “I want to communicate both the surface and substance of the piece. Usually you get one or the other. There is a brash theatrical side and a poetic side which can prove elusive. It shifts from the cartoonish to a work of great emotional depth and a revelation about love and desire not being mutually exclusive.”

Sharman has spent many months investigating the life and times of Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte with whom he also wrote The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. “Their work revealed the yearning, humanity and wisdom beneath the lightness and artifice.”

Early in its history, however, Cosi fan tutte was admonished for its morals and misogyny, notably by one Berlin critic who described it as “the silliest rubbish in the world; it only gets an audience because of the splendid music”. Sharman says it’s a popular misconception to dismiss the opera as easy listening. He argues the opposite. “It’s a serious comedy driven by betrayal, not just the young women but the men as well. It’s confronting and, I think, emotionally subversive.”

During rehearsal the director sticks to his long-held maxim: to stage the classics as though they’ve just arrived in the post and to treat new operas and plays like classics. The production will be sung in English in a translation by Jeremy Sams.

First performed in Vienna in 1790, Cosi comes from the age of reason to speak to an age of uncertainty, says Sharman, who proves to be as methodical as he is spontaneous. “It fell out of favour for a long period before recapturing the public imagination after World War I. The terrorist attacks of September 11 made it popular again. It’s now one of the most performed operas in the world.”

Mozart wrote Cosi in his mid-30s and the director has gathered a troupe of similar-aged creators and performers to re-energise the work at a time when Opera Australia itself has faced great uncertainty and is undergoing change. “After a choppy period, Cosi and Peter Grimes [opening in October] offer a sense of renewal [at OA] and a sign that the ground is beginning to shift in its culture,” Sharman says.

Subtitled The School for Lovers, the opera begins with the officers Ferrando and Guglielmo claiming that their two lovers, Dorabella and Fiordiligi, will be eternally faithful. Their confidant Don Alfonso lays a wager to test their allegiance. What begins as a sparkling romp with ample throws of confetti darkens into a morally ambiguous rite of passage.

Sharman, who directed the operas Voss and Death in Venice, is very much the tribal elder on the set of Cosi. More a paternalistic cajoler than autocrat, he likes nothing better than young artists venturing ideas and taking risks, much as he did in his liberating theatrical adventures in the ’70s.

Opening at the Opera House this week, the production was to have been his second collaboration with the OA’s music director Richard Hickox, until his death last November amid a controversial debate about musical standards and the alleged neglect of mature female singers. Hickox had planned to join forces with Sharman after the success of their revival of Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice in 2006. They felt that the time was ripe for a popular and sophisticated interpretation of Cosi fan tutte. (The OA last staged the opera in a revival of a Goran Jarvefelt production in 2005.)

Sharman began to recruit talented, open-minded practitioners and performers. His hand-picked creative team includes Ralph Myers (set), Gabriela Tylesova (costumes), Damien Cooper (lighting) and Joshua Consandine (choreographer). They have conspired to conjure a fluid, minimalist, playful void – Myers likens his set to a loudhailer – to showcase a new generation of Mozart singers who, in Sharman’s view, promise to be the company’s great future singers. They are Sian Pendry, Rachelle Durkin and Tiffany Speight, all of whom star in Benedict Andrew’s version of The Marriage of Figaro for OA next year, and Henry Choo and Shane Lowrencev.

A vital element, however, was missing. Who would fill the not inconsiderable breach left by Hickox? Sharman began his most pressing search. He needed a maestro who trusted his vision, if only to avoid the clash of egos for which the opera world, rightly or wrongly, is renowned.

The director heard about Simon Hewett, a young Brisbane-born conductor who had been an assistant to Simone Young at Hamburg Staatsoper and who is firmly establishing a name for himself in Europe as a conductor based in Berlin. Sharman made tracks to France, where Hewett was conducting Mahler’s 3rd Symphony with the notoriously demanding Paris Opera Orchestra. They spent hours discussing Cosi and sharing ideas. The conductor watched a DVD of Sharman’s Voss and was won over by its realistic gestures and dreamscape aesthetic.

“I have been very fortunate in opera to get to work with fine artists and, as it’s turned out, Simon has become the key collaborator on this [production]. If the thinking between a director and conductor is simpatico then the results can be thrilling . . . The most fulfilling relationship for me was working on Voss with [the late conductor] Stuart Challender. I enjoyed his Australian-ness. Watching Simon in rehearsal reminds me of Stuart’s instinctive approach and unwavering control.

“There is a lineage there. Simone Young was an assistant to Stuart Challender and Simon worked as Simone’s assistant . . . He is eloquent and as passionate about making Cosi relevant to a new generation as I am. Mozart is a great seducer and the opera translates well to modernity . . . It is propelled by betrayal and [it] is closely related to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

As the tribe of singers, designers, musicians, production assistants and sundry OA personnel stream into the town hall, there is an air of anticipation at the final raw run of the opera before rehearsals move to the Opera House stage. The production has been dubbed “Aussie Cosi” by actor/video cameraman David Ford on YouTube. The show’s pulse and flavour is distinctly Australian, yet there are passing nods to 18th century conventions to avoid anything too kitsch. Early on there was vague mention of a barbecue complete with sausages in the Japanese wedding and party scene that happens upstage during the performance. The ceremony, inspired by a video wedding in the Botanic Gardens, remains but the barbecue idea was jettisoned.

A stage manager loudly declares that time is of the essence. “Today we want to do the whole opera without stopping if we can.” OA chief executive Adrian Collette murmurs, “Let’s rock ‘n’ roll,” as he settles in to watch the three-hour run, as does the company’s assistant music director Tony Legge. The much-admired baritone Jose Carbo plays the world-weary manipulator Don Alfonso, who sets the masquerades in motion. He is relaxed and eager to make a start. “I see the character as more avuncular than arch and the way Jim is approaching the piece feels natural and organic . . . He [Sharman] is trusting and affords all the singers the freedom and scope to develop [a character].”

Dressed in black, the director is almost childlike in his enthusiasm for his players. Hewett sits conducting alongside, his incisive and intuitive engagement with the singers ensuring a lively pace and sharp focus. “I was sceptical about doing it in English but I have come around to the immediacy of the approach and how Jim’s reading stays true and honest to the piece,” says Hewett. “It’s not a journey from innocence to corruption but looks to where the point of betrayal is. It’s an ashen-grey area . . . Mozart conjures sensuality and intensity through dramatic economy.

“Jim’s production offers a sense of realism yet also a suggestion of the theatrical curtain being parted to take the audience into an emotional dreamscape. Hopefully audiences will hear Cosi fan tutte differently in light of this production.”

Cosi fan tutte opens at the Opera House on Thursday.