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Novel Becomes Opera

Novel Becomes Opera

Ever wondered how a novel would be adapted into opera? This is exactly what you’ll have the opportunity to find out this May, as the Sydney Chamber Opera brings David Malouf’s novel Fly Away Peter to life.


Continuing its reputation for presenting world premiere new music works, Carriageworks joins Sydney Chamber Opera (SCO) to present Fly Away Peter, the classic novel by world renowned Australian author David Malouf, from 2-9 May. Telling the story of Jim Saddler, a young birdwatcher from Queensland thrust into the nightmare of the Western Front during the First World War, this new contemporary Australian opera by Australian composer Elliott Gyger, director Imara Savage and librettist Pierce Wilcox speaks to a story of the Australian spirit; it begins at peace, builds to tragedy, and ends in transcendence.

Composer Elliott Gyger, an award-winning Australian composer with this as his first foray into opera, says he was drawn to David Malouf’s writing by its innate musicality.

‘The sonic elegance of the language, but also the symphonic sweep of its moods. A novel in which the principal characters barely speak to one another might not seem like the most promising material for theatrical adaptation, but inner psychological drama is what opera does best, and Fly Away Peter has that in spades. At the heart of this work is the tension between the high emotional intelligence of the three protagonists, and the horrific situations they are forced to confront – rich terrain for musical expression.’

The score for Fly Away Peter is a contemporary re-imagining of the ensemble from Stravinsky’s iconic twentieth-century work A Soldier’s Tale. Re-created for 2015, it looks back at 1915.

The work illustrates not just the sense of ‘drama’ or ‘action’, but the spirituality so central to the novel, Rather than plot, the production conveys the “details, nuances and spirit”.

As Malouf says, “When you translate something from one form to another, there is no way the work does not have to be re-made.” Aware and accepting of the fact his novel will be something entirely new, he says, somewhat light-hardhearted:

“I understand my language will indicated stresses for music and that music. I also understand that it will utterly destroy all the rhythms. The music echoes the novel but is a different shape entirely. Music is another world.”

Similarly, Director, Imara Savage says “It is important to note that we are not putting Malouf’s novel on the stage, whilst we remained faithful to the essence of the work we also allowed it to resonate in a new way in an entirely different art form. From a storytelling and design perspective images of light and dark, earth and sky, and a threshold, an in between place between life and death are all evident.”

‘Carriageworks is excited to be presenting the world premiere of this dynamic new work by Australia’s most exciting young opera company,’ said Carriageworks Director Lisa Havilah. ‘Since it began four years ago, SCO has rapidly developed a reputation as a distinctive voice in the Australian music landscape. As a new resident company at Carriageworks, we are especially proud to be working closely with SCO in the making of Sydney’s only world premiere opera production this year.”

Jack Symonds, Conductor and Artistic Director of Sydney Chamber Opera adds, ‘Fly Away Peter is exactly what SCO looks for in a new opera. Elliott Gyger’s score is a contemporary, fiercely dramatic and immensely sophisticated response to a masterful libretto. It is a work which unfolds with an originality and an inevitability all-too rare in contemporary opera. This makes it a perfect vehicle for a great director like Imara Savage to reveal it on the stage. Fly Away Peter is an extremely important addition to the small canon of Australian operas and I am proud SCO can present its world premiere as our first work as a resident company at Carriageworks.’

Fly Away Peter is currently the only world premiere opera being presented in Sydney in 2015.

Fly Away Peter
2-9 May, 8pm



Tess Ritchie