Speechless Karina Utomo by Paul Tadday LandscapeCat Hope’s new work “Speechless” is a co-commission for Perth Festival and world premiere, produced by Tura New Music.

“Speechless” is a unique and contemporary opera that is inspired by Hope’s response to the 2014 Human Rights Commission report ‘The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention’. The score is derived from drawings and graphics extracted from the Report. While Hope says that she has “retained the humanist dilemma at the core of opera – and its framework” this ground-breaking piece bears no resemblance to traditional opera. 

Speechless - Judith Dodsworth - by Paul Tadday - full res - 1A 30-piece multi-instrumental orchestra begin with low frequency sounds in an extraordinary soundscape that evokes a sense of foreboding. The low frequency of the sounds resonate through the body as if to awaken a primal response. Beautifully conducted by musical director Aaron Wyatt, the score blends natural and unnatural sounds; and what sometimes seem to be peculiar sounds transform into sounds that call to mind the natural world. Then electronic sounds by Stuart James penetrate the soundscape, pushing the score beyond what was thought possible, perhaps otherworldly. 

When the voices penetrate the soundscape from the audience a sense of community is imbued. The four soloists, accompanied Speechless - Tara Tiba -by Paul Tadday - full res - 4by a community choir, enter the space and interact with the fabric that hangs from suspended bars. One of Australia’s contemporary opera singers, Judith Dodsworth, is joined by Indonesian vocalist Karina Utomo, throat singing specialist Sage Pbbbt, and Perth’s soprano Caitlin Cassidy. It is difficult to fathom how these four soloists managed to memorise this piece. There are no apparent rhythmical or structural methods to cling to yet the commitment by each singer to interpret this score in a distinctive and surprising way is awe-inspiring.

Hope has composed and devised this extraordinary piece to express “a vocal language beyond words” that still communicates the horror and despair of the detention centre experience for the forgotten children.

Speechless - Sage Pbbbt - by Paul Tadday - full res - 2“Speechless” is showing at the Sunset Heritage Precinct, Dalkeith, until Sunday 3 March, 8.00pm performances. 

Tickets: $25 – $49. Available at https://www.perthfestival.com.au/event/speechless


Images: Paul Tadday