In October 2008, amid internal rumblings in Opera Australia, Alan Jones invited then-CEO Adrian Collette on to his top-rated 2GB radio show and spent 30 minutes eviscerating him for artistic decisions and wasting taxpayer money. “You’ve abandoned some of the greatest artists,” he thundered. “We need to stop the rot and tyranny that’s invaded every corner of this company and wipe it clean,” he spat at one point.
So what would Alan make of this: next year the company is presenting a Cole Porter musical with no operatic parts, and for one role has passed over numerous experienced performers to employ a multimillionaire bigoted radio shock jock who can’t sing or act.
The rot and tyranny, indeed.
Jones will play the role of the captain on the good ship Anything Goes, a mercifully small part in Opera Australia’s new national tour with a Broadway bent. At Monday’s announcement, Jones took his place among a heavyweight cast of theatre veterans including Caroline O’Connor and Todd McKenney.
“There was only one man I really wanted to play this role,” said impresario John Frost, who is co-producing the run with Australia’s most heavily subsidised arts company. “I thought this guy will be absolutely perfect.”
OA artistic director Lyndon Terracini — who in June came under fire for employing vile homophobe soprano Tamar Iveri before she finally fled the country — said Jones had an “incredibly wicked sense of humour”. Which will be little help to the 73-year-old in the show’s demanding tap routines.
That Jones has no discernible performing chops — the bitter and twisted vaudeville of his breakfast radio show aside — is the least offensive aspect to the decision. Stunt casting has a storied history of putting bums on seats.
But why this man?
Why a zealot who divides communities, who berates and bullies anyone who dares to disagree, who twists powerful arms in private and rallies his disciples in public to achieve personal crusades? A man who famously inspired racial violence on the beaches, who regularly employs misogyny against leaders, who even exploited the death of a prime minister’s father? A vigorous critic of art he doesn’t like, of grants he thinks are undeserving, of performing institutions that abandon artistic rigour?
You can agree with Jones’ political views — much of Opera Australia’s brittle-boned subscriber set no doubt do. But how does casting such a deeply divisive figure make any business sense, let alone artistic? How does Jones’ presence expand the reach of the company, as Terracini’s long-time management mantra demands?
Frost last employed Jones as the wheelchair-bound United States Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt in Annie, his plodding musical theatre debut. Frost can use his considerable fortune and commercial enterprise any way he likes.
But for a national opera company, with its large government purse, to deny professional performers a role in favour of contracting a bilious uber-rich theatre hobbyist?
Well, even Alan would rage against that.