Neil Armfield’s critically acclaimed Watershed to premiere at the Sydney Opera House

OA-Mark-Oates-and-Mason-Kelly-in-Adelaide-Festival's-2022-production-of-Watershed-The-Death-of-Dr-Duncan-photo-by-Andrew-BeveridgeThe recipient of five-star reviews and emotional standing ovations at its sold-out premiere season at the 2022 Adelaide Festival, Neil Armfield’s acclaimed opera Watershed: The Death of Dr Duncan will make its Sydney debut with Opera Australia this week.

An operatic oratorio, Watershed is based on the tragic true story of the 1972 drowning of Dr George Duncan, a University of Adelaide law lecturer, the alleged police cover-up and subsequent public outrage that followed.

With NSW marking the 40th Anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality this year, the Sydney season is a timely reminder of the appalling series of circumstances, the horror and heartbreak that ultimately led to South Australia becoming the first Australian state to implement homosexual law reform.

“We commissioned Watershed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr Duncan in Adelaide, allegedly at the hands of off-duty members of the SA Police vice squad engaging in their habitual practice of ‘teaching the poofters to swim’,” said Director Neil Armfield.

“(Adelaide) Festival audiences found it a shattering experience: at the end of each performance many remained in their seats, not able yet to go out and look down through their tears to Karrawirri parri – the River Torrens – where this act of casual murder took place. It’s a vocal work of stirring and glorious beauty.

“In the wake of the recent NSW Special Commission of Inquiry into gay and transgender hate crimes, and the consequent shadow that fell on our police, this couldn’t be more relevant to us in Sydney today,” said Armfield.

Armfield leads a team of acclaimed artistic talents in this thrillingly physical oratorio featuring powerful choral music, solo voices and dance.

Australian tenor Mark Oates and bass Pelham Andrews will both reprise their roles from the 2022 season, along with multidisciplinary performer Tomáš Kantor and WAAPA-trained Macon Escobal Riley and the Opera Australia Chorus.

Multi-award-winning author Christos Tsiolkas and playwright Alana Valentine fuse press clippings, inquest transcripts, private correspondence and monologues spanning five decades of anti-gay violence to craft a searing libretto.

Designers Alisa Paterson, Nigel Levings, Jane Rossetto and Sean Bacon recreate the simple but effecting scene by Adelaide’s River Torrens, with Joseph Twist’s luscious, transcendent score played by the Opera Australia Orchestra under the baton of one of Australia’s foremost choral conductors, Brett Weymark.

Watershed: The Death of Dr Duncan
Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point (Sydney)
Season: 14 – 16 June 2024
Information and Bookings:

Image: Mark Oates and Mason Kelly in Adelaide Festival’s 2022 production of Watershed: The Death of Dr Duncan – photo by Andrew Beveridge