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Photo: Australian Opera

Australian Opera 1988, Neil Armfield, dir

Howard, Brian

Whitsunday (1988)

Duration: 90 minutes

Chamber opera in three acts

English   Deutsch  

Libretto by Louis Nowra (E)


4S,M,2T,Bar,2BBar 1(=picc).1.1(=Ebcl).1(=dbn)- large susp.cym/BD/vib/large gong/sand paper-strings(

Abbreviations (PDF)


This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.

World Premiere
Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
directed by Neil Armfield
Conductor: Stuart Challender
Company: Australian Opera

Time and Place

A tropical island in Northern Queensland, 1913.


A group of picnickers arrive — Zoe, Clara the maid, Amelia, Ernest (who brings a flying machine), Beatrice, Johnson, Aunt Mary, Henry and Lawrence. The boatman will come back for them at sunset. Ernest assembles his flying machine, Lawrence reads a book. Clara becomes a subject of conversation: her mother was a mad woman, married to a Kanaka. Johnson speaks disparagingly of her people, brought to Australia against their will. Clara becomes more and more drawn to sounds only she can hear. Lawrence dismisses what she says, the hears something himself. Ernest is about to jump from a tree. Zoe cries for him to stop. Suddenly it grows dark, and Clara understands that the spirits are coming out. The Emperor tells Clara not to be afraid. Mali enters with gifts for her if she goes with him. Lawrence looks for Clara, but meets instead a Crazywoman, who tells him he will never find her. In a palace Clara has been dressed regally. The Emperor approaches and woos her. Lawrence is still searching for her, but the other picnickers seem unaware of where they are. Their conversation reveals their hostility and guilt. The Emperor confronts Lawrence and tells him Clara is now a ghost. The Stranger offers to take him home with the others, but he will not leave without Clara. When he finds her, she remembers little of her previous life except that she loved him. She tells him to save himself and go. The Emperor tells him it is too late, but the Crazywoman intervenes and both she and the Emperor are lost in the light of the fireflies. Zoe tells Ernest not to jump.




History, Magic/Mystery, Relationships

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