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Antarctica (2022) is an opera by the Australian composer Mary Finsterer, combining art, science and actual topics . Read more about the opera and the background.

photo: Dean Golja


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

Mary Finsterer, photo: Dean Golja

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’.

Fedor Teunisse, artistic director Asko|Schönberg, visiting the symposium of the University of Tasmania

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.’