Antarctica

Mary Finsterer, Sydney Chamber Opera, Asko|Schönberg

Contemporary opera about the mysterious southern continent

The South Pole is one of the last places on earth rarely visited by humans. It is too cold and inaccessible. It is a fruitful source of inspiration for untold stories and histories.

Australian composer Mary Finsterer’s new work explores the historical, mythical and scientific conceptions and stories about the southern continent. With a mesmerising combination of musical elements from early and new styles, presented against a backdrop of large video projections, we are transported into the world of Antarctica.

Contemporary opera about the mysterious southern continent

The South Pole is one of the last places on earth rarely visited by humans. It is too cold and inaccessible. It is a fruitful source of inspiration for untold stories and histories.

Australian composer Mary Finsterer’s new work explores the historical, mythical and scientific conceptions and stories about the southern continent. With a mesmerising combination of musical elements from early and new styles, presented against a backdrop of large video projections, we are transported into the world of Antarctica.

This fictional tale starts with three characters from the Age of Discovery miraculously conjured from the memory of a young girl: a cartographer, a natural scientist and a philosopher, all with different dreams and expectations concerning the mysterious landscape. Their motivations range from loving curiosity to arrogant possessiveness. But what they find is far greater than themselves.

In order to prepare for her opera, Finsterer organised a symposium at the University of Tasmania where she and librettist Tom Wright could meet with scientists from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies. ‘In an age of increasing concern for our ecology, the displacement of populations and a heightened awareness of how vulnerable our oceans are, Antarctica is a topical story.’

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dates

Sun June 5 8:30 PM

Mon June 6 8:30 PM

Prices

  • default from € 33
  • CJP/student € 12

language & duration

  • English surtitles: Dutch

  • 1 hour 45 minutes (zonder pauze)

Click here for the program text and a libretto.

Background

Antarctica is the fifth largest continent in the world, and it is the coldest region on earth. It houses many kinds of flora and fauna, with krill, whales, penguins and research scientists as regular itinerants on its vast coastline. It’s almost other-worldly, uninhabitable landscape gives this place a mysteriousness and mythological presence and this is reflected in Finsterer’s music as much as the libretto devised by Tom Wright. ‘We are living in a time when anthropogenic climate change is destabilising every aspect of our lives on a political, cultural and scientific level. We all realise how vulnerable is our existence and our planet. It is in this context that Tom and I dreamed up Antarctica.’

Click here for the program text and a libretto.

Background

Antarctica is the fifth largest continent in the world, and it is the coldest region on earth. It houses many kinds of flora and fauna, with krill, whales, penguins and research scientists as regular itinerants on its vast coastline. It’s almost other-worldly, uninhabitable landscape gives this place a mysteriousness and mythological presence and this is reflected in Finsterer’s music as much as the libretto devised by Tom Wright. ‘We are living in a time when anthropogenic climate change is destabilising every aspect of our lives on a political, cultural and scientific level. We all realise how vulnerable is our existence and our planet. It is in this context that Tom and I dreamed up Antarctica.’

Fable for the 21st century

After her successful opera Biographica in 2017, composer Mary Finsterer is taking another dive into the genre and bringing Antarctica to the stage. The one–and–a–half hour chamber opera revolves around historical, mythical and scientific conceptions and stories surrounding the southern continent. Visitors will find themselves immersed in a set of allegories around the subject of Antarctica. Finsterer says: ‘Whilst it is important to be conscious of what is happening in the world, together with librettist Tom Wright, we wanted to position Antarctica as a fable for the twenty-first century: a made-up story that has, at its heart, a 'mythic quest' that examines human motives.’

‘The fable that Tom and I have created is an interweaving of metaphor, imagined events and mysteries. It is a place where non-human forces are given voice including krill, a ship and ice. It is a place in which to engage the imagination in a poetic, child–like way. ’This is done with natural and supernatural forces within an unfolding narrative. The story is told in three acts, ‘The Map’, ‘The Journey’ and ‘Ice’.

Connection and becoming aware

Within the world of Antarctica, Finsterer hopes to enchant the audience through fiction and drama as much as the physical representation of such a remote and extreme region in the world. The story is told through the eyes of a young girl from the Age of Discovery, improbably remembering her Antarctic journey hundreds of years later. This is coupled with an explorer journey motif of three characters embarking on a voyage before ultimately discovering what really matters in life along the way. Their journey is not just physical but profoundly emotional and spiritual.

Scientists and artists

Through a symposium Finsterer organised at the University of Tasmania, she and Wright, conferred with scientists from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, drawing inspiration from their research and data for the music and libretto of the opera. ‘I’m excited about this collaboration,’ the composer says, ‘because scientists follow a process that combines analytical and creative thinking. This process is not too far removed from composing.’

The process of staging the opera Antarctica involved exploring the music, dramaturgy, visual arts, digital media, the humanities, cultural studies and a great number of fields of science. This research, including graphic representation, raw data, audio and video recordings and other relevant documentation, not only provided a rich source of material for the creation of the libretto and music, it has also informed the artistic process for the production, which is led by director, Imara Savage.

Early and contemporary music

In Antarctica, Mary Finsterer, a former student of composer Louis Andriessen, takes her musical cues from early and contemporary music. ‘The music I compose is infused with historical, metaphorical and poetical references. Stylistically, it brings together early musical practices with innovations from the twentieth and twenty-first century, including serial techniques, orchestration and electronics.’

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  • Antarctica - Asko Schönberg © Tom ten Seldam

    © Tom ten Seldam (Asko|Schönberg)

  • Antarctica © Dean Golja

    © Dean Golja

  • Antarctica - Mary Finsterer en Tom Wright © Dean Golja

    © Dean Golja

  • Antarctica

    © Annie Spratt/bewerking door Dean Golja

  • Antarctica © Ada Nieuwendijk

    © Ada Nieuwendijk Fotografie ada@dds.nl

credits

music Mary Finsterer libretto Tom Wright direction Imara Savage set and costume design Elizabeth Gadsby video design Mike Daly lights Alexander Berlage vocals Jane Sheldon, Jessica O’Donoghue, Anna Fraser, Michael Petruccelli, Simon Lobelson actor Hanne Fransen Eve Kreutz, Tom Wright, Wil Anton, Harry Jay sound design Arne Bock music performed by Asko|Schönberg conductor Jack Symonds flute Ingrid Geerlings oboe Evert Weidner clarinet Tomoko Muikayama French horn Serguei Dovgaliouk trumpet Arthur Kerklaan trombone Yiannis Bontis piano Pauline Post percussion Joey Marijs harp Astrid Haring violin Joseph Puglia, Bas Treub viola Liesbeth Steffens cello Sebastiaan van Halsema double bass Len Bielars coproduction Asko|Schönberg, Sydney Chamber Opera, Holland Festival commissioned by Asko|Schönberg publisher Schott Music with support by Carriageworks, NSW Government through Create NSW with the generous assistance of the Julian Burnside AO Trust for Mary Finsterer and the University of Tasmania

This performance is made possible by

HF in conversation with Mary Finsterer

HF in conversation with Mary Finsterer

How did a performance come about? Where do makers get their inspiration? What was the starting point, and what challenges did they encounter along the way? The conversations give a glimpse into the work and background of the festival artists.

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