The new Australian opera Antarctica, which premiered at this week’s Holland Festival to standing ovations, is as ambitious as a flying cellist, vast as Berlioz’s account of the Trojan wars, and cruel as Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods: it portrays the crash of the Enlightenment mindset against that vast and unforgiving plane of ice. The task of preparing it in Sydney during the pandemic, then staging it in the 17th century Dutch capital of global trade is a feat to compare with premiering Aida in Cairo. (Ed: read more about the background of the work in this feature article from our June 2022 issue.)

<i>Antarctica</i>, which premiered at the 2022 Holland Festival.

Antarctica, which premiered at the 2022 Holland Festival. Photo © Ada Nieuwendijk.

The plot is unlike anything in the tradition of grand opera: no tenor is in love, and there is no prima donna. It is not ‘about’ any personal conflict among characters. Structured as a collection of tableaux, it presents even less development and causality than Schönberg’s convention-breaking masterpieces of a century ago....