Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban
Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban (Image: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

As if our leading arts company didn’t have enough to worry about with COVID restrictions and financial pressures. The last thing Opera Australia needed right now was Nicole Kidman getting “swatted” in the stalls.

In the most bizarre story of the weekend, it emerged that Nicole and hubby Keith Urban were involved in a fracas with another audience member while attending a recent performance of The Merry Widow at the usually sedate Sydney Opera House.

When Keith jumped to his feet to show his appreciation with a standing ovation, the older man behind him became angry at the breach of archaic opera etiquette and things escalated to the point that he swatted Our Nicole with his program.

The police were even called. They confirmed a 53-year-old man and 67-year-old man had been involved in the incident but no action was taken.

Now you’d think the national treasure that is Nicole Kidman would be in a safe space in the environs of our other national treasure, the Sydney Opera House. But apparently not.

It was even more surprising given the average age of diehard opera buffs. Perhaps the old codger in question was just jealous at Keith’s exuberance in the staid setting.

And therein lies the PR problem for poor old Opera Australia, which has been desperately trying to attract a younger more vibrant audience and not appear full of grumpy old white men.

Having two huge international stars in the house should have been a PR coup. Instead it’s a cringeworthy story, with such wonderful headlines as “A cranky opera fan had the bloody NERVE to ‘swat’ Nicole Kidman with his program”.

Hear hear.

But perhaps the organisation should focus its renewal behind the scenes.

Opera Australia chairman David Mortimer is 74, The Merry Widow director Graeme Murphy is 70, and the next production (of Tosca) is from 80-year-old John Bell. Oh for the heady days of the 1990s, when a young Baz Luhrmann revitalised Opera Australia with his modern and youthful version of La Bohème.

But it should not be forgotten that Sydney is currently the only major city in the world fortunate enough to be putting on any opera at all.

The Merry Widow was its first back after being closed for a year. The company had deliberately programmed a light, breezy operetta which would appeal to the widest possible audience given the capacity restrictions and obvious social distancing challenges.

Opera purists were even miffed that The Merry Widow singers were miked. Yes, like standing ovations, microphones are a no no.

But there was a valid reason for the unusual decision: Opera Australia wanted to get maximum numbers given their restricted COVID schedule. They ran it like a musical with a show every night; the singers needed to be amplified otherwise it would be too taxing on their voices.

The next production, which launched last week, is the more classic Ernani, so the theatre has a dark night between each show. This will also be the case for the two other operas this season — which you’d think would satisfy the traditionalists.

Meanwhile Nicole has singlehandedly done more for the local entertainment industry during COVID than anyone else — including the government.

Last July she made the brave decision to move the $100 million production of her latest series, Nine Perfect Strangers, from the US to Australia. While some media focused on her quarantining at her property, they neglected to mention that she provided hundreds of jobs to the struggling arts sector which is still waiting on government support.

It was this move — at a time when it was virtually impossible to get insurance for any global production — that led to the current boom in overseas productions in Australia.

Nicole shouldn’t be swatted, she should be feted.