Music: Ross Edwards, Libretto: Dorothy Hewett
Dorothy Hewett has described Christina’s World as “an allegory or fable about illusion and reality and the truth and lies of memory.”
Christina, in middle age, is obsessed by a desire to return to the house of her childhood and the life of the imagination she created there - a kind of second Eden of lost childhood and the Pastoral Dream. She succeeds in conjuring her young self, a hesitant and idealistic dream figure who gradually takes on the characteristics of a ‘real’ Christina - a contradictory, perverse, tragi-comic adolescent with a fierce egocentric life of her own.
The idealised Eden reveals its sinister and terrifying aspects as the young Christina plays out the story of the house by the sea; Dick, her withdrawn father, widowed by the suicide of her mother, drowned by the sea; Harry, her schizophrenic uncle, subject to fits of melancholia and violence, who is nevertheless Christina’s confidante and friend - her only friend until she meets Tom, the boy from over the hill, a young farm labourer who becomes her dream lover.
After she has become pregnant, Tom deserts her. She retreats further into her fantasy life and when her baby is born she sets it on a raft and releases it out to sea. Later, Tom’s body is found in a ditch. Has he been murdered by her father, her uncle or herself? Did he even exist? She is uncertain and so are we. But the house is peopled by malignant ghosts and terrible memories. In the end we are left with an enigma. Was there ever such a house? Was there a lover, a father, a mad uncle, a drowned child - or were they all nothing more than figments of the young Christina’s distorted imagination? Was there ever such a place as Christina’s World? The opera ends with the voice of the ageing Christina still telling her tragic story of lost love and perfect world.
The collaboration between Dorothy Hewett and me was conceived and fostered by Stuart Challender who, while conducting a program of my music, felt it had certain affinities with Dorothy’s musical play, The Man from Mukinupin. Christina’s World was commissioned by the Music and Literature Boards of the Australia Council. The first performance was given in the Everest Theatre, Sydney, on 24th November 1983. For later productions I revised the score, enlarging the instrumental forces.