Fly Away Peter – Media Release

February 26, 2015


David Malouf’s Classic First World War Tale Brought to Life by Sydney Chamber Opera in Honour of Gallipoli Centenary.

Continuing its reputation for presenting world premiere new music works, Carriageworks joins Sydney Chamber Opera (SCO) to present Fly Away Peter from 2-9 May. Based on the classic novel by world renowned Australian author David Malouf, this new contemporary Australian opera tells the story of Jim Saddler, a young birdwatcher from Queensland thrust into the nightmare of the Western Front during the First World War. Fly Away Peter is currently the only world premiere opera being presented in Sydney in 2015.

‘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. SCO plays an important role in the making of contemporary new Australian opera and Carriageworks is pleased to support innovation in new music,’ said Havilah.

This is the first time that Malouf’s powerful story has been adapted for opera. In honour of the Gallipoli centenary, Australian composer Elliott Gyger, director Imara Savage and librettist Pierce Wilcox tell a story of the Australian spirit that begins at peace, builds to tragedy, and ends in transcendence. Jim Saddler is a young man with a profound connection to the Queensland coast he calls home. A man of few words, he nonetheless forges deep bonds with Ashley, a wealthy landowner, and Imogen, a middle-aged photographer, and together they establish Ashley’s land as a bird sanctuary. When the First World War breaks out, Jim and Ashley are plunged into the mud and horror of the Western Front, while Imogen is left at home, the only one left to mourn Jim’s climactic death in the trenches.

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. This is that work re-created for 2015, looking back at 1915. Composer Elliott Gyger is an award-winning Australian composer but this is his first foray into opera. He 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.’

Librettist Pierce Wilcox, agrees, saying, ‘I grew up reading David Malouf’s novels, and it’s been a rare privilege to collaborate across the decades with such a leading light of Australian letters. Reading Fly Away Peter was a spiritual experience in the most literal sense:

David’s writing always has a strong sense of place, in this case the Queensland coast and the fields of France, but it always moves beyond mere flesh. David delves deep into the soul. It’s been a joy to immerse myself in his rich, poetic writing and emerge with the distilled essence that has become this libretto. I felt a sense of honour matched only by my feeling of responsibility to the story of Jim Saddler, and all the real Australian servicemen – as well as the women left behind – his tale stands for.’

The production design involves the striking use of large amounts of white clay to suggest a transformation from Australia to the Western Front. Inspired by the cracked and scarred landscapes from First World War, the use of clay is intended to evoke the malleability and changing nature of the natural environment and the characters. Innovatively, the production is an intimate three-hander with the tenor embodying more than ten different soldiers in a virtuoso example of characterisation.

Director, Imara Savage, adds, ‘David Malouf’s Fly Away Peter is a meditation on life and death and the cyclical nature of all things. I was drawn to Jim’s connection to his environment and in how the landscape changes throughout the course of the novel to reflect the protagonist’s inner world. 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. We were also inspired by the idea of monument and memorials, and objects designed to venerate the dead so that they may go on living.’

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
2-9 May, 8pm

About Sydney Chamber Opera:
Sydney Chamber Opera (SCO) is a leading producer of small to medium scale contemporary opera, newly resident at Carriageworks. Jack Symonds and Louis Garrick co-founded SCO in 2010 and it is critically acclaimed for its innovative programming, musical rigour, compelling theatre-making, as well as its strong focus on developing the practice of emerging artists. SCO has been presented by the Sydney Festival (2014), the Biennale of Sydney (2012), and Carriageworks as part of its Artistic Program (2014) and it won Time Out Sydney’s “Best Opera” Award in 2013 for its Australian premiere staging of Britten’s “Owen Wingrave”. The Australian has described SCO as “a force to be reckoned with” (2012) and the Sydney Morning Herald said it is a company “sparkling with ideas” (2013). Sydney Chamber Opera has presented ten fully staged productions of contemporary chamber opera since February 2011. Five of these productions have been Australian premieres of important international work, and four have been world premieres by Australian composers.

About David Malouf:
David Malouf is the internationally acclaimed author of novels including Ransom, The Great World (winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ prize and the Prix Femina Etranger), Remembering Babylon (winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award), An Imaginary Life, Conversations at Curlow Creek, Dream Stuff, Every Move You Make and his autobiographical classic 12 Edmondstone Street. His Collected Stories won the 2008 Australia-Asia Literary Award. His most recent books are A First Place and The Writing Life. He was born in 1934 and was brought up in Brisbane.