My ambition as a Director is to re-imagine the relationship between artist and audience in opera. I am currently exploring unexpected and often intimate encounters with the art form, evolving new associations between character, music, text, movement and space central to the presentation of an integrated music drama. I am particularly interested in the interpretative possibilities that are offered by staging operas in non-traditional performance spaces (for example, warehouse, asylum, place of worship, train station, port).
I work towards productions that reflect a poetic reality. I am less concerned with finding contemporary parallels for narratives (though this may be a resonance for the audience) and more concerned in my artistic practice with extensions of dream and myth that engage the audience at another and quite instinctive level.
To this end, in 2012 I founded Lost & Found Opera and served as its inaugural Artistic Director in Perth, Western Australia until 2018 when I took up the position of General Director with a mandate for change at New Zealand Opera.
Lost & Found was launched in 2012 by the Minister for Culture and the Arts WA, with a mission to present unusual operas in found spaces that speak to the resonance of the work. The Company produced and toured work on a scale that integrated the audience, performance and environment. In a short period, Lost & Found produced bold and imaginative work to find its audience and help energise the creative sector in Perth with an array of successful sold out seasons garnering critical acclaim from local, state and national press. It was hailed as “the nation’s most innovative opera company” (Opera) and “one of the few genuinely disruptive arts organisations in Australia” (The West Australian).
Critically acclaimed productions included:
- The Emperor of Atlantis Ullmann/Kien(an opera written in the Theresienstadt concentration camp and performed on the elevated platform (bimah) used for the reading of the Torah at Perth Hebrew Congregation Synagogue);
“a terrific production of an underperformed work…Thomas de Mallet Burgess is doing great things in Perth at the moment, and Lost and Found Opera are truly offering something different for audiences…The Emperor of Atlantis is one of the most inventive productions you are likely to see this year.” Limelight 2014
- In the Shadow of Venus Heggie/Menotti/Hoiby(three short American operas performed at various locations in and around Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) including one opera projected live onto the large cultural centre piazza screen; Winner of the West Australian Arts Editor Award 2015);
“Perth’s innovative opera company Lost & Found again breaks new ground with a hilarious triple bill performed in as many sites.” The West Australian 2015
- Médée Milhaud(the classic Greek myth reflecting the last stand of the matriarchy staged at Fremantle Arts Centre in a reclaimed storeroom containing an original cell from the building’s former use as an asylum for women that also housed alcoholics, prostitutes and the infirm);
“Darius Milhaud’s 1938 opera Médée was given a gripping Australian premiere by Lost and Found Opera…This production shouldn’t be missed.” The West Australian 2015
“Innovation, intimacy and insight: this is what opera should be about…The production is a triumph of design and direction.” Limelight 2015
- Don Procopio Bizet(a comic opera in a new English translation by Thomas de Mallet Burgess and new orchestration by Chris van Tuinen about age and ageing performed in a suburban Italian club and wedding venue in partnership with an aged care facility).
“Inevitably the question is whether the opera really works, stripped of all the advantages of the opera house itself, its pit and orchestra, the glamour and prestige of its architecture and, not least, its acoustics. The answer in this case is, emphatically, yes…Credit must go to director and translator Thomas de Mallet Burgess, whose script and direction is consistently funny and contemporary…The soloists were each quite remarkable. It was astounding to see them perform with such comic timing, verve and swagger in what, I imagine, must be quite a confronting proximity with the audience, and to hear them sing with such commitment and skill in so bare an acoustic and with such meagre orchestral support…Unknown opera in a bingo hall? Don’t miss it.” The Australian 2016
“Lost and Found Opera’s wildly imaginative production dissolves the boundaries between performer and audience, reality and make-believe…Lost and Found Opera is one of the few genuinely disruptive — dare I say agile — arts organisations in Australia…This opening night performance was an absolute delight, the mix of garish costumes, physical comedy, engaging arias, duets, ensembles and choruses, audience interaction and Burgess’s witty English translation combining to make this Big Fat Italian Wedding a night to remember. In short, Lost and Found Opera have done it again.” The West Australian 2016
- Trouble in Tahiti Bernstein (a site specific re-imagining of Leonard Bernstein’s opera staged in a private house in the affluent suburb of City Beach);
“5 stars…a production with which, from the originality of its conception to the excellence of its execution, it is difficult to find fault.” The West Australian 2017
“This is the magic of Perth opera company Lost and Found: they present opera so physically and emotionally close to the audience that the work takes on an (often uncomfortable) personal resonance. ★★★★★” Limelight 2017
“Outstanding casting and a mix of naturalistic and psychologically probing direction from Burgess has so far resulted in opera with an uncomfortably personal impact, and on May 10 Trouble in Tahiti did not disappoint…Lost & Found produces a thrilling operatic package (and) the secret is getting out.” Opera Magazine 2017
As General Director, New Zealand Opera I provide the creative and operational leadership of the national opera company of New Zealand, and one of the largest performing arts companies in the country. Our ambition is to lead opera from Aotearoa in a way that reimagines the art form; embraces the cultural and social identities of our diverse communities; and ensures a vibrant and sustainable presence for opera in New Zealand.
“De Mallet Burgess went into his first full year in charge at NZ Opera having to reimagine what it means to be an opera company in the 21st century. What he came up with is the most exciting – and challenging – programme a national performing arts body is likely to have produced in New Zealand”.
New Zealand Herald, November 2019.
(image from La Traviata, Malmö Opera)