• Luke Styles
  • Ned Kelly (2018)

  • Wise Music G. Schirmer Australia Pty Ltd (World)

Commissioned by Lost and Found Opera

  • 2(pic).0.2(bcl)/3perc/str(
  • Community Chorus
  • soprano, mezzo-soprano, 2 tenors, baritone, bass-baritone
  • 1 hr 30 min
  • Peter Goldsworthy
  • English

Programme Note

2020 Art Music Awards finalist: Ned Kelly was shortlisted in the new Work of the Year – Dramatic category

15-19 FEB 2019

Presented in association with West Australian Symphony Orchestra

The sixth opera by Luke Styles, to a libretto by Peter Goldsworthy. Premiered at the 2019 Perth Festival to sold out crowds, commissioned by Lost and Found Opera. Conductor: Chris van Tuinen. Director: Janice Muller. Cast: Samuel Dundas, Fiona Campbell, Adrian Tamburini, Matt Reuben James Ward, Robert MacFarlane, Pia Harris, Community Chorus. Orchestra: West Australian Symphony Orchestra

Ned Kelly weaves together the common myth with lesser-known extraordinary facts about the politics, loves and quirks of Australia’s legendary bushranger. Cross-dressing, pig-stealing, bee-keeping, opium-smoking, devout republican-supporting, armour-wearing loyal family men — that’s just part of the story of the notorious Kelly gang.



Composer: Luke Styles
Librettist: Peter Goldsworthy
Conductor: Chris van Tuinen
Director: Janice Muller
Production Designer: Charles Davis
Lighting Designer: Alastair Swanson
Production Manager: Andrew Chambers
Stage Manager: Tegan Sorenson
Production Assistant: Andrew Mummery
Wardrobe Supervisor: Sue Kerr
Producer: Jemma Smoult

Ellen Kelly: Fiona Campbell
Ned Kelly: Sam Dundas
Kate Kelly: Pia Harris
Steve Hart: Robert Macfarlane
Joe Byrne: Adrian Tamburini
Dan Kelly: Matt James Ruben Ward



Ellen Kelly sings of her life and her son’s bravery. In 1865, aged 11, Ned Kelly dived into a creek to save a drowning classmate. The boy’s grateful parents later rewarded Ned with a green silk sash decorated with a heavy bullion fringe.

Act I
Scene 1 – Euroa Hotel
December 1878. While police searched for him elsewhere, Ned Kelly, arrived in the small town of Euroa, 100 miles north-east of Melbourne.
Scene 2 Euroa Bank
In broad daylight, dressed in fine clothing, the Kelly gang cleaned out the National Bank. They took several hostages including the bank manager Mr Scott and his wife.
Scene 3 - Euroa Hotel
Spurred on by public support, Ned decides to explain the circumstances that led to their current career by writing a letter to Donald Cameron MLA. As Ned dictates, Joe Byrne tries to temper Ned’s angry words with more diplomatic passages. The letter was seen by Premier Berry. All criticisms against the police were removed before it was released to the press.
Scene 4 – Kelly Hut, Greta
April 1877. A year earlier, Ned Kelly’s life on the run commenced after an incident at his family home involving Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick. We hear a version of events from the five protagonists who were there – or perhaps not there.
Scene 5 – Euroa Hotel
Ned and Joe leave Euroa, putting on a display of horseriding skill as they depart.

The exploits of the Kelly gang are the talk of Victoria. While the police ramp up their search, there are reported sightings of the gang across the state and into NSW. Meanwhile, Ellen Kelly reflects on her harsh treatment following the Fitzpatrick incident.

Act II
Scene 1 – Royal Mail Hotel, Jerilderie, NSW
Steve Hart and Joe Byrne enjoy a few drinks at the Royal Mail Hotel in Jerilderie.
Scene 2 – Jerilderie Police Station/Jerilderie Church
February 1879. Ned and Dan Kelly bail up Constable Richards and obtain troopers uniforms. Dan Kelly accompanies Mrs Richards to set the altar for church the following day.
Scene 3 – Royal Mail Hotel, Jerilderie
Having returned from robbing the bank, Ned Kelly and Joe Byrne begin another letter to explain their situation. Constable Richards disagrees with Ned about the facts.
Scene 4 – Stringybark Creek
28 October 1878. Six months earlier. The Kelly gang had encountered a group of troopers in plain-clothes out searching for them. One of them was Sergeant Kennedy. (Three officers were actually killed on that day). After this, the Felons Apprehension Act was rushed through parliament and the Kelly gang were declared outlaws. The reward for their capture was increased from 200 pounds to 1000 pounds.
Scene 5 – Royal Mail Hotel, Jerilderie
Ned and Joe continue writing their letter. Ned, like his mother Ellen and brother Dan, speaks of the injustices they and Irish settlers like them have suffered.

While the police ramp up their search, rumours and gossip circulate about the exploits and whereabouts of the Kelly gang. Ellen, in jail with her young baby, sings of her love for Ned.

Glenrowan Hotel 27 June 1880. After 16 months hiding in the bush and two years after Ellen Kelly’s incarceration, Ned Kelly and his gang arrived at Ann Jones’ pub in Glenrowan. They had with them four suits of handmade armour. What was their plan? What is known is that day ended with violence. Three of the gang died and a critically injured Ned Kelly was arrested and transported to Melbourne. He was convicted by Judge Redmond Barry and hanged 11 November 1880 in the Old Melbourne Gaol.


Creating Ned Kelly as an opera has been something I have had in mind since I started actively engaging with opera in a professional capacity in 2010. I knew I wanted to write an Australian opera and the image of the Kelly armour was an irresistible operatic magnet that drew me to this Australian myth.

Spending many months steeped in Kelly research, fact, fiction, radio plays, musicals and painting, the depth of extraordinary events and fantastical details confirmed the operatic potential of the subject matter. The Kelly story is not one limited to a gung ho bushranger, but one of complex communities, drugs, oppression, gender and notions of Australian identity. Hence I was able to imagine these characters on the stage, singing with the operatic voice and creating an opera that would be varied in its subject matter and could follow a strong narrative arc.

There were key musical worlds that presented themselves immediately from within the subject matter. Ellen and Ned Kelly knew and sang folk songs, at home and at the pub. Two existing Australian folk songs therefore find their way into the opera at key points, textually reimaged by Peter Goldsworthy and surrounded by an orchestral accompaniment that points to the subtext of what these folk songs might mean to the people singing them. At the same time, the characters singing do so with an on stage folk band, who act as additional cast members throughout the opera, also playing the original pseudo folk songs that I have composed and which sit alongside the well-known existing tunes.

I wanted to involve the community in this opera, as Kelly supporters and detractors were in ample number at the time of the events, as they are today. This has manifested itself into a community chorus that assumes various voices in the opera, from the tabloid press to republican agitators to the landscape that this story plays out upon.

The very presence of the armour, a lurking inevitability in the opera, led directly to the composition of a percussion-heavy score. There are times when percussive galloping (part of the centrality of horses in the Kelly story) transform into sounds of the forging of the armour. These metallic percussive sounds also evoke corrugated iron (which is part of the percussionist’s arsenal), one of a number of sounds of Australian identity. During the pivotal Stringybark Creek scene non-pitched and percussive sounds take over the entire cast and orchestra, evoking through sound the animals and the mysterious quasireligious space that is the Australian bush.

Librettist Peter Goldsworthy has crafted an inspiring text that allowed me to compose melodies that play with his rhyming scheme and position the voice of the opera as both existing in a late 19th-century vernacular but transformed through a thoroughly contemporary lens. The bulk of the opera is sung in a style that responds to the text and creates the drama and is truly my own sound, where influences of Britten, Wagner, Lachenmann and Berg might be heard to fuse merrily with my own voice.

Luke Styles


One of the first challenges of directing a site-specific work is to discover how best to situate the conceptual material – the play, or opera – in relation to the site itself. What are the constraints and opportunities of the space, its atmosphere, character and history and how do these aspects resonate with the material to be staged?

Peter Goldsworthy has described the opera as a ‘three act pub crawl’ through the towns of Euroa, Jerilderie and Glenrowan. The hostages of 150 years ago could smell the sweat and desperation of the gang and even while listening to Ned’s polite commands or rousing arguments would have been concerned for their safety.

Who was this man Ned Kelly? What did he believe in? What was he fighting for? Was he a cold-blooded murderer? Or a victim of injustice? Or both?

When I first saw the site of the former Jarrahdale Mill, I realised that an intimate experience with the Kellys would be difficult to achieve in such a vast space. Instead the scale and emptiness of the building, with its huge beams, imposing roof and wide openings onto the bush, spoke to me of the textures of mid-19th century dwellings, the scale of the Ned Kelly legend, the isolated and harsh life of early bush settlers and the fantastical and strange aspects of the Kelly story. This magnificent old building once full of activity, men, machines and timber logs now lies abandoned and ghostly, the people who once filled it long gone.

We have an enduring need as humans to create myths and tell stories. Even while alive Ned Kelly’s life and actions captured imaginations. His legend has continued to provoke and inspire and his story has been repeatedly investigated and retold. But somehow it still remains mysterious and strange and, like this remarkable building, much is lost and will never be known.

Janice Muller


I had hardly given Ned Kelly a thought until Jacqui Stockdale’s Historia exhibition in the Art Gallery of SA in early 2017. It took my breath away; my wife Lisa photographed it all. Out of the blue the next morning I received a call from a composer in London I’d never heard of who wanted to make a Ned Kelly opera. Perfect timing, Luke! Since Fate clearly had me in a pincer movement, I said yes. Lisa emailed Luke the photos and I began reading.

The first problem was the sheer richness of the material, whether documented or speculated or apocryphal – or, ultimately, mythic. The human need for myth-making underwrote much of it. Opera has a similar need: so why not examine that need, why not enact that need in the opera itself?

The next problem: how to cram this material into a tight narrative structure? A three act ‘pub crawl’ seemed a start: an act in the pubs in the three towns that the Kellys took hostage. We, the audience are the hostages; Ned is telling us his story. (Okay, one was a homestead, but I plead operatic licence.)

Two intermezzi of a galloping, gossiping nature came next. This was a world on horseback, running on horse power, a Wild (north-)West (Victoria) of horse-rustling, shootouts, bank robberies – and galloping, gossiping rumours.

Next came a prologue, sung by Ned’s mother Ellen – a very Wild Colonial Girl – and based on a famous tune of another gender. The more Luke and I worked, the more this whole story became about Ellen. Her three-year jail term changed Ned from a petty horse-thief to a man on a mission of murderous vengeance.

The deeper metaphors emerged more slowly, as they always do: the role of fire and rebirth; the role of armour of different kinds – from Ned’s boyhood green silk sash to women’s clothes to police uniforms to Chinese armour to the final iconic Kelly helmets.

I’ve seldom had so much fun writing. But there was always an elephant in the play-room – how to address the serious moral issues at the core of the story? How to balance humour and farce and the more absurd myth-making with, say, the murder of the police at Stringybark Creek? By allowing each character to speak for him or herself and let the hostages (you) decide seemed best.

Peter Goldsworthy



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