THE CALL OF AURORA, an Opera about Love, Death & Madness, is the World’s First and Only Opera to Celebrate and Interpret the Story of Douglas Mawson’s 1911‐1914 Antarctic Expedition.
The Call of Aurora
After having spent ten years composing and preparing this project, The Call of Aurora, a new chamber
opera by Tasmanian composer & librettist, JOE BUGDEN, will premiere in Hobart in December 2013, to coincide
with the conclusion of the Centenary of Mawson Events that commemorate and celebrate his epic
and heroic time in Antarctica.
December 2013 marks 100 years, to the month, that Douglas Mawson, after spending two years in
Antarctica, travelled back to Hobart on the Aurora.
There have been many books about Mawson’s time in Antarctica, and December will see another, Flaws in
the Glass, by David Day, as well as the opening to the public of the replica of Mawson’s Huts on Hobart’s
But, Hobartians will also have the unique opportunity to see and hear The Call of Aurora, the only opera to
have been composed about Mawson’s 1911 ‐1914 Antarctic Expedition.
Brief Synopsis of The Call of Aurora
The opera opens with a prologue; set in a mental institution, the expedition’s wireless operator,
Sydney Jeffreys, who has been written out of history, and is still haunted by the power of Douglas
Mawson, calls on Mawson to amend the official records and to give him his rightful place in
Act One begins with the dying and death of Xavier Mertz, who, along with Mawson, and after the
death of Ninnis, has to struggle back to base camp, having lost most of their supplies and
resources down a crevasse along with their companion, Belgrave Ninnis.
Both Mawson and Mertz are suffering the effects of exposure to the elements, lack of
nourishment and the effects of eating the toxic Husky Dog livers that, whilst keeping them alive, is
also slowly poisoning them. Mertz succumbs to the fatal build‐up of Vitamin A, whilst Mawson,
eventually running out of Husky dogs to eat, is able to struggle on alone for over a 160 kms back to
base camp. He finally arrives, only to see the Aurora, in the distance sailing away without him.
There Mawson, and the few of the original crew who agreed to stay back to search for him (and
the two others), remain stranded throughout all of 1913, to finally await the return of the Aurora
in the summer at the end of that year.
Act Two sees Mawson and his crew confined to spending that long and dark year holed up inside
what has become known as Mawson’s Hut. During that year they must deal with the monotony of
having to spend a year in cold darkness with no purpose other than to wait for the ship to return.
The Call Of Aurora 2013 2
Mawson must endure that boredom in addition to being responsible for buoying the morale of his
colleagues, and all the while, silently dealing with the weight of responsibility for the deaths of
Ninnis and Mertz – but perhaps more than all this – Mawson also has to content with the effects
of ‘cabin fever’ on the newcomer to the group.
When the Aurora left Antarctica without Mawson in early 1913, it left Sydney Jeffreys, the ship’s
wireless operator to manage the communication between Commonwealth Bay and the Macquarie
Island wireless transmitter. But Jeffreys was unaccustomed to the ravages of a long Antarctic
winter, and throughout 1913 loses his mind, developing both psychosis and delusion – so much so
that he ends up believing that he is Jesus Christ.
On top of all this, Mawson is dealt another blow with the terrible news, delivered to him via the
now neurotic and gloating Sydney Jeffreys, that the entire crew of Robert Falcon Scott has died on
their return from the South Pole.
Throughout Act Three Mawson has to manage Jeffreys’ increasing madness until the return of the
Aurora at the end of 1913. But until then, Jeffreys’ Christ‐like delusion gives rise to him taunting
Mawson about Mawson’s role in the deaths of Ninnis and Mertz, and tempts him, in the Antarctic
Wilderness, to script history in a particular way; in a way that might salvage Mawson’s own
reputation as a leader and explorer and also cast Ninnis and Mertz as some kind of heroes of
The Call of Aurora interprets and imagines this tale, which is so well known to so many Tasmanians, but
also investigates the lesser known relationship of Mawson and Sydney Jeffreys.
The Call of Aurora is also a story about the love of Mawson and his fiancée, Paquita Delprat, and her
adoration for Mawson, who she knows is a man of determination and integrity.
When & Where is The Call Of Aurora being performed?
DATES of the Four Performances
Opening Night: Thursday 12th December 2013 with performances on 13th, 19th & 20th December
8pm to 10pm (duration is ca 90 mins with a 15 min interval between Acts 1 & 2)
@ The Peacock Theatre Salamanca Arts Centre Salamanca Place Hobart.
$35 ($28 concession)
Tickets can be purchased online at http://thecallofaurora.eventbrite.com.au
Ticket sales also at the door 30 mins before the show.
Who will be interested in The Call Of Aurora
The story of Douglas Mawson’s epic tale of survival, following the deaths of Ninnis and Mertz, is well
known, and through Tasmania’s long and strong connections with Antarctica, this opera will resonate with
all those who, through their work or other interests, have their own relationship with Antarctica and
Mawson’s place there.
The Call of Aurora is also for those who enjoy theatre, story‐telling and music. Interpreted through the
intimacy of chamber opera, and the immediacy of live theatre, Bugden has written a libretto that develops
the themes of loss, love and heroic struggle against temptation, to a chilling climax. Bugden’s use of rich
and beautiful music invests the story with emotion and drama, and envelops the space in a range of
textures, from deep and dark to sparse and atmospheric.
The Call of Aurora ‐ The List of Characters
The characters are (in order of appearance):
• Sydney Jeffreys ‐ the mad wireless operator – sung by Jamie Scott
• Xavier Mertz / Cecil Madigan / Ghost of Robert Falcon Scott – sung by Nick Monk
• Douglas Mawson ‐ sung by Philip Joughen
• Mawson’s fiancée, Paquita Delprat / Aurora ‐ the Spirit of the South – sung by Jennifer O’Halloran
Meet The Cast & Crew
Phillip Joughin as Douglas Mawson
Jamie Scott as Sydney Jeffreys
Jennifer O’Halloran as Paquita Delprat
Nick Monk as the Ghost of Robert Falcon Scott
Joe Bugden: Composer & Librettist
Gary Wain: Music Director & Conductor
Martin Blackwell: Staging & Art Direction
Gareth Kays: Lighting Designer
Make Up Artist: Corrine Costello
Produced & Directed by Joe Bugden
The Call of Aurora is scored for flute. Bb clarinet, viola, cello & vibraphone.
Sponsors for this event include:
The composer gratefully acknowledges the following for their generous & visionary support of this project.
Hobart City Council
The Hon. Lara Giddings, Premier & Minister for the Arts
The Hon. Rob Valentine, Independent Member for Hobart,
The Hon. Andrew Wilkie, Independent Member for Dennison
The Salamanca Arts Centre
Tasmanian Energy Brokers
Read more at: www.facebook.com/callofaurora www.thecallofaurora.com