Interview: Mark Oates – Love Burns

Over the last two years, State Opera South Australia has been presenting a collection of almost forgotten Australian operas with their Lost Operas of Oz series. Love Burns, composed by South Australian composer Graeme Koehne, was part of this series in 2021.

Starting this week, State Opera South Australia will be re-staging Love Burns and taking it on the road for a regional tour of Australia. The cast includes South Australian treasure, Mark Oates, who graciously spent some time with me to talk about the importances of the arts in Australia, Love Burns, and how he came to discover this unique Australian work.

“In true form, like a lot of these things, I was asked to play a role. I feel bad in a way, because the opera’s composer, Graeme Koehne, was my orchestration lecturer when I was at university. I’ve heard a lot of his orchestral work, but I had no idea that he had even written an opera. But when I heard it for the first time, it really captured me. It premiered at the 1992 Adelaide Festival, but it was only a few years ago that I first discovered this amazing opera.”

Mark discussed with me the importance of the Lost Operas Of Oz series in bringing back into circulation these almost forgotten Australian works.

“It’s hugely important. Not only is it important for these composers and our operatic cannon, but it is important to tell stories in the Australian vernacular. I’ve been involved with the Lost Operas Of Oz project, run by State Opera South Australia, as a performer or assistant directing. I was involved in five of these shows: Boojum!, Christina’s World, Madeline Lee, Voss and Love Burns. It’s been fascinating to explore these works. Whilst the Love Burns story is in its essence an American story, as it’s based on the Lonely Hearts killers in the 1940, it’s told from a very Australian perspective. It’s a really interesting way to explore your craft and share this craft with Australian audiences.”

Love Burns is about to embark on a regional tour of Australia. It must be a great feeling to take a show like this on the road, especially after the last few years we have had.

“It is very exciting to be able to take stories to places in the country that don’t necessarily see this kind of art. Bands tour, individual musicians tour, and there is an amazing live music scene that runs through regional Australia, but this kind of production work is really difficult to get out. It is an expensive prospect to take this kind of work out to regional Australia so it is really exciting to share Love Burns with these audiences over the next month.”

I asked Mark about the importance of taking the arts out to some of these regional centres to make the arts accessible for everyone.

“Art is life. For me there is no way to seperate the Arts from everything in day to day life. It’s not just for me as an artist, but when you look around there are signs on buildings. They have been sign written, designed by someone and then placed. Before this interview I was listening to a podcast and it had a musical background. Someone listened and then gave some thought to the content of the podcast and then wrote music to support that content. So when I think about the Arts as we present them, we have a story about the human condition, and this story in particular about some pretty tragic human relationships, and Graeme Koehne has worked with a librettist to shape that story so it is interesting and engaging. He then wrote a score to bring this story to life and add passion, tension and drama to it. If that isn’t part of everything we do, the world would be a very boring place. 

“For me in particular, the fact we are going into regional areas, I hope that middle and upper high school schools will also bring students along and expose them to how exciting it is to see a story like this. Of course, these are kids who are exposed to TV and streaming services where music is an integral part of absorbing a story, and live theatre does that in an even more exciting way.”

With a brilliant cast of local South Australians, I was keen to find out what the rehearsal process for Love Burns has been like.

“The rehearsal process has been amazing. For four of the five of us, we are revisiting the work that we put together rather quickly when we first staged it in 2021. Everyone involved in the work for its first season had just rolled off Sweeney Todd on a Saturday night and started rehearsals for Love Burns on the Monday morning. I was invited to join Love Burns rather late in the process, so I was doing all my pre-work for Sweeney and wasn’t able to give the show the same amount of detailed attention I usually would. But now, having a chance to come back and look at it again, and see these scenes fresh and give it the time to really delve into the show, is so good. We are really excited to rediscover the scenes and explore them in more depth to see how much more they can actually be.”

Love Burns opens here in Noarlunga before embarking on a national regional tour, and ending in Port Lincoln on November 26. Further information and tickets can be found at . 

Interviewed by: Ben Stefanoff

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