Breaking Glass marks a new wave for Australian opera, one that resists the classical notions of a male-centric perspective. Sydney Chamber Opera are working in partnership with the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s ‘Composing Women Program’ to present new technologies and music by female composers.
Update: The season of Sydney Chamber Opera: Breaking Glass was not able to proceed due to COVID-19. Supporters of the SCO can view a special premiere on their site this Friday 24 April, and the public via Facebook on Saturday 25th.
At Carriageworks, over 28 March – 4 April, four performances come together in a one-act opera that explores familiar narratives with a contemporary edge, by reframing historical contexts with a feminist lens. “Opera still has a long way to go in addressing its historical inequities, but this project is the natural outgrowth of SCO’s commitment to gender equality in the lead artists making our work,” Sydney Chamber Opera Artistic Director Jack Symonds shares.
Breaking Glass is the result of two years working with four composers: Peggy Polias, Josephine Macken, Georgia Scott and Bree van Reyk. Featuring four vocalists, —Jane Sheldon, Jessica O’Donoghue, Mitchell Riley and Simon Lobelson— poetry, literature, mythology, and a rare species of Australian bird inspire the new compositions.
However, each piece of opera extends into a layered female account. “These four new works assert the relevance of opera as a contemporary art form which can centre women’s voices, stories and perspectives through a multiplicity of approaches that show us new ways of being proximate to emotional power,” ‘Composing Women’ mentor Liza Lim shares.
Using the saga of Odysseus from Homer’s Iliad to set the scene, Commute by Peggy Polias narratives a familiar feeling for most: the prickling unease of a lone woman’s walk home at night. Josephine Macken translates the terror of feminist-writer Margaret Atwood’s prose and wounded sound for The Tent, while Georgia Scott is inspired by a fellow writer, Sylvia Plath’s poetry on a woman’s battle for her identity in In Her Dark Marauder. The final work, The Invisible Bird by Bree Van Reyk, uses a true story of a rare breed of Australian parrot with its struggle for survival in a tale of emancipation.
Two directors will direct the works, Danielle Maas (The Tent and Her Dark Marauder) and Clemence Williams, (Commute and The Invisible Bird) who are determined to — in Maas’ words — “provide something other than a linear, traditional version of a patriarchal narrative.”
“In 2020, the making and viewing of new opera is an act of revolution,” Williams adds. “As a member of the audience, you’re plunged into darkness, surrounded by a terrifying abstract aural soundscape and asked to grapple with the ever-changing essence of the modern world. It’s no wonder then that new opera is the perfect breeding ground for innovative feminist work.”