Lisa McCune sings the praises of opera soap

Another industry name calls for a return to long-form TV drama as The Divorce sings up a storm for ABC.


After readers recently voted Blue Heelers the drama they would most lkike to see revived, it was difficult not to pass on the love to Lisa McCune when we met recently.

While being flattered by the sentiment, it wasn’t surprising news to her. The Mount Thomas drama may have been a procedural, but John Wood was a surrogate father to his “family” of young coppers. Tuning in to see a TV family every week is something McCune believes is being lost as TV continues to lean towards short-run drama.

“I’d love to see another 40 episodes a year back on our television. Like in the day of The Sullivans or A Country Practice -something episodic that is a branding on our screens. I find that we are more and more choosing series to download. My kids have gone back to watch Lost on Netflix,” she said.

Recently at the Screen Forever Conference producer John Edwards lamented the lack of long-running dramas on our screen. McCune agrees that there is value in long-form drama for audiences and industry.

“It makes a great branding for networks and over the last few years with the 13eps we’ve kind of lost that. The storytelling isn’t quite as tight and as slick as a 13 but if you assemble a great writing team you can still do some good storytelling,” she says.

“I hope as a viewer and as a performer that networks start looking at that kind of model again.

“I think Australians love it. It’s like watching another family.”

Her latest project The Divorce, an opera for the ABC, falls well-short of such ambitions at only 4 episodes. But it does imaginatively turn opera into episodic television, screening across 4 consecutive nights.

McCune plays Louise the younger sister of Iris (Marina Prior), who gathers for a party to mark her divorce from Jed (John O’May).

“It was really fun for me to bring people who I love working with in theatre and then working with them in a television setting,” she said.

“It’s nice to work on something that’s a little bit of fun. It’s not being asked to be reviewed as a piece of theatre, and it’s not being played in ratings period. It’s one of those things where you go ‘Have a try of that!’ so I think that’s a great attitude.”

Written by Joanna Murray-Smith with music by Elena Kats- Chernin the project was developed by Opera Australia and directed for television by Dean Murphy.

“When it was developed as an opera first all these different strands and layers were there but then it’s about what kind of format they decided to put it into for television,” she recalls.

“The budget allowed for 4 x half hours, so some things had to be trimmed, and the story had to be told slightly differently.

“From the moment I first heard about it, it took from August through to the end of July.”

McCune says the playful nature of the piece, filmed at Werribee Mansion, works towards story points at the end of each episode.

“If people are watching it episodically, then at the end of episode one they will get the first crazy hook,” she explains.

“Because it happens over one night, you have to stick with the story to see the twists and turns. It’s very quickly revealed that Louise, the younger sister, is a little bit kooky.”

Like a feature musical, the actors are lip-syncing their recorded vocals, which McCune says was necessary with so many moving parts.

“Working so quickly to make something look so good is certainly not an easy task,” she continues.

“We wouldn’t have had the time to do it Live and nothing else is Live, so why should the sound be Live?

“Everything is not moving in real time. You want it to look beautiful and you want it to sound good, so I think it would have been the wrong way to go.

“If they were doing it Live I probably wouldn’t have done it. I would have looked at it and thought, ‘No, the schedule is too tight.’”

Also appearing in the cast is Hugh Sheridan, with whom McCune’s character becomes romantically entwined.

“Hugh was particularly beautiful. He’s very clever and very quick and he ahs great sensibility with music and understanding the genre. We were laughing so much and had such a beautiful time together, even though I’m a decade older!”

The production also draws upon key creatives from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and McCune advises there are some elements that will keep viewers on their toes.

“It’s a really dense text. There’s a lot of rapid-fire chorus stuff.

“But I think if we don’t try these things it would be a shame. There are so many different elements and it’s fun to do.”

The Divorce airs 9:30pm Monday December 7 – Thursday December 10 on ABC.

4 Responses

  1. I’m not sure you could call this an “opera”- there are spoken lines (as I have seen on the trailers), and I believe opera have no spoken lines. It’s probably more precise to call it a “musical dramedy”? “Comedra”?

    1. Recitativo is pretty much a speech-style delivery of the libretto that’s been around for over 400 years. Modern stage operas have been known to include colloquial speech and adaptations for TV often nudge the boundary further.

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