An Opera

Stephen McNeff / Olivia Fuchs
Full Score
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My research for Banished began with a small group of students during a Trinity Laban co-lab period in 2013, though the idea goes back over 30 years when I first saw Steve Gooch’s Female Transport and stored the idea of adapting it as an opera until the right opportunity arose.

I have been involved in opera for a long time and it has always been a frustration for me that while there is an abundance of female talent (particularly so in conservatories and colleges) there is a noticeable lack of challenging roles available for young women. The roles most often undertaken are maids or innocent girls, compliant wives or tomboys. Not that the problem is necessarily confined exclusively to young women, but where good roles exist, the women are all too often merely passive or victims. Things happen to them rather than them making things happen. They are unable to influence their circumstances and are usually resigned to their fate. Worse still, they are often judged in some way responsible for what happens to them, culpable even because of their looks, their way of life or a streak of independence. Just think about Mimi, Carmen and Violetta (to name only three on a long list). All these characters die, and their attempts at individuality contribute to their demise in some way that they have no control over. With some exceptions female characters in opera are too often sad, mad or bad.

Redressing this balance and taking advantage of the richness in vocal talent is only one reason to write an opera reflecting the reality of a group of strong women who work things out for themselves. The transportation of people to Australia at the beginning of the nineteenth century is not a particularly well understood part of history beyond a sort of folk myth. What were the circumstances, who were the people and what happened to them? Opera does not exist to completely answer these questions, but it can focus on the women as individuals and help tell their story. (All the women named in the opera actually existed.)

My approach has to been to put the women’s narrative centre stage and, in the confines of an oppressive, dangerous environment go with them on their journey as they survive or sink. The demands on the women are huge. At every turn they are oppressed by their jailers, the system that brought them here and their own low expectations. They have to work out ways to overcome these odds. We discover them through their music in solos and ensembles, sometimes reflective, at other times boasting about their lives a petty criminals and trying to establish status and pecking order. Alongside this I have used references to music of the time to create another reality built on larger ensembles and choruses. This is a sort of collective consciousness aware of loss, longing and context – even of a broad political dimension to the realities of Transportation. Despite the acute awareness of their circumstances in these ensembles, there is also a resilience and strength that transcends the individual stories.

Stephen McNeff

Additional Information

Item Number: EP72857
Format: Sheet Music
Number of Pages: 316
Publication Date: 20/11/2020
Barcode: 9790577021133
ISMN: 979-0-57702-113-3
Format: 297 x 420mm
Instrumentation: Characters: Sarah Roberts (S), Kathleen Rode (S), Winne Cook (S), Nance Ferrell (S), Charlotte Badger (MS), Madge Williams (MS), Ensemble Women (S / MS), Tommy (T), Captain (T), Surgeon (Bar), Sarge (Bar), Orchestra: 1(=Picc).1(=Ca).2(II=B-Cl).1––Perc–Acc–Str(

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