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September 26, 2019

Madeline Lee measures the tyranny of time and distance

What happens when your plane vanishes without a trace?

  • Words: Josh Fanning

“It’s a mix of reality and imagination. A historical event,” director of Madeline Lee, Douglas McNicol says.

“During WWII a B24 called Lady Be Good set off from a place in North Africa around about Lybia on a bombing mission to Naples. It crashed 400 miles off course.


Madeline Lee by State Opera of South Australia
4 Oct, 7:30 pm
5 Oct, 7:30 pm

More information and tickets available here.

“In 1961 the Americans sent out an examining party and Time Magazine reported on this.”

The new production by State Opera of Madeline Lee premieres next week at State Opera’s home base in Netley. The opera is part of the organisation’s commitment to re-mounting and re-examining great Australian-made works this year and speaking with Douglas we get the sense that this particular show will be unique.

Douglas McNicol

Douglas was involved in Madeline Lee’s world premiere in 2004. John Haddock, who composed the work, asked him to sing one of the parts and now Douglas is directing the production and casting his own unique lens over the work.

“The music’s fantastic,” says Douglas. “We have a Human Nature-type ensemble. This is one of my own impressions of the work.

“I don’t want to overlay too much, I want to allow each individual performer to explore the text. My job as a director is to knit everything together. Unite the ensemble and carry rather than dictate to them.”

The story itself is mind-bending. The plane crashes in 1943, but the search party only heads out in 1961. These parallel timelines draw out a different narrative in this story from a lineal plot line, and Douglas feels opera is the perfect medium to explore such a surreal plot.

“It’s about relationships and emotional journeys,” says Douglas. “The guys who are waiting to be rescued – being Americans – these crews in the bombers during the war would carry good luck charms. In our case, one of them has a baseball mitt and the other has a catchers mitt. What do guys do when they’re hanging around waiting? They play ball.”

Metaphors and natural dialogue tensions help reveal still-relevant frictions in the male identity without moralising.

Madeline Lee promises an intriguing journey into two crucial human emotions – the sinking feeling of loss and the burgeoning hope of being found.


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