After many years of research dedicated to Australian female composers, Sydney Conservatorium of Music Associate Professor Jeanell Carrigan has revived Dutch-Australian composer Meta Overman’s Psyche, with a performance scheduled for August. Through concert performances, CD recordings and archived editions, the pianist has single-handedly revived the work of the Dutch-Australian composer, and has now orchestrated a new edition of her legendary 1955 opera.

Meta Overman. 

Born in Rotterdam in 1907, Overman survived two world wars and the German occupation of the Netherlands. “The resilience developed during this time is reflected in her music which is described by critics as innovative, individual, sometimes humorous, and powered by strong visual imagery,” the Sydney Conservatorium of Music said in a press release. Overman moved to Australia in 1951, living in Melbourne and then Perth, where she continued to write music for orchestra, choral and chamber works, operas and ballets. Psyche premiered at the Perth Festival in 1955, where it received 10 performances, and has not been revisited since. The opera only exists in a piano score, and this will be the world premiere of Carrigan’s newly orchestrated version.

The opera is in three acts based on the novella by the same name by Dutch author Louis Couperus. Psyche is unusual in that there is no chorus and no large staging requirements. Most interestingly, the characters are not all singers. There are two singing roles and also two speaking roles which complement the singers. Psyche is performed by a dancer and one of the main characters is a harpist, another a solo flautist.

Roger Benedict will conduct the orchestra, in a production directed by Narelle Yeo, who will also enact one of the major singing roles. Carrigan herself will also be performing the extensive piano part in the orchestra.

“Overman composed with an original voice and was a genius in creating visual images using musical parameters,” said Carrigan. “[She] considered Psyche her masterpiece and used many parts of Psyche as the basis for compositions she wrote after 1955.”

This revival is timely in light of the recent plight to dispel traditional, but inherently misogynistic operatic values, and to raise awareness of the ‘opera gaze’ – a view that as Opera Director Sally Blackwood wrote in a recent article for Limelight, is “entrenched in the acceptance of white male power and privilege as the norm; the defending of stories which perpetuate racist, sexist and damaging stereotypes glossed over by music; the maintenance of elitist perceptual and political biases; and the perpetuation of harmful objectification of women.”

The restaging of Psyche comes at a time when, as Blackwood puts it, women are increasingly looking for not only acknowledgement of their passion and work, but also where their opinions need to be placed at the forefront and be introduced as “a driving force in the industry.”

Carrigan remarks here, “discovering a composer such as Meta Overman is like finding treasure to a researcher.”

Psyche will take place in the Music Workshop at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music on August 17