From the initial carnage to the bumbling autocracy of the fallout, the events of September 11, 2001 were nothing if not operatic. But in its latest project exploring psychological trauma and voicelessness, Sydney Chamber Opera has sidestepped the violence, tragedy and hubris of 9/11's bigger picture. This is opera on a smaller scale than you're used to. How small? The Howling Girls takes place inside a human throat.
The piece has its roots in bizarre truth. In the weeks following the September 11 attacks, five teenage girls in the US showed up at different hospitals, panicking. They each claimed that their throats were blocked by debris from the towers or by a body part of one of the victims. In each case, doctors found nothing.
Using this case as stimulus, director Adena Jacobs and composer Damien Ricketson have created, in the latter's words, a "wordless sensory spectacle" which places the audience inside the throat of soprano Jane Sheldon. Augmented by electronic music and a host of howling teenage girls, Sheldon's performance explores the human voice "as a nexus between mind and body and what it means, literally and metaphorically, to lose it."
Since its inception in 2010, Sydney Chamber Opera has tried to position itself as an alternative to Sydney's often stodgy opera scene. The Howling Girls suggests that not only is this working, but that they'll be pushing the envelope a hell of a lot harder in 2018.
Image: Samuel Hodge.