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Ritual fascinates and inspires David Byrne. Reading Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski’s The Emperor, a 1978 account of Haile Selassie’s iron rule in impoverished Ethiopia, he found its descriptions of servitude beautiful. They reminded him of non-naturalistic, avant-garde contemporary performance or East Asian theatre, and his own ritualised gestures in pop performance.

“There was an artificial reality, almost surreal,” Byrne says, seated in a conference room in Sydney, “and I thought: I’ll file that away, it could be useful at some point.”

Where is the great Australian opera? New Australian work seems destined to be staged once or twice, then rarely revived. Since 1973, the Australia Council has commissioned well over 160 operas or musical theatre pieces, says Lyndon Terracini, artistic director of Opera Australia. “Not one of them has entered the repertoire.”

It is five years since Opera Australia last produced an Australian story of its own, Brett Dean’s $2m Bliss, based on Peter Carey’s novel and sponsored by Brisbane gallerist Philip Bacon and a 50-donor syndicate.

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