Ah, that I am Judith, am coming from him,
out of the tent out of the bed, out-trickling his head,
three-times drunken blood.
Judith’s Return is a soaring, romantic and full-throttle new opera, inspired by the story of Judith — a biblical heroine and murderous widow who (allegedly) seduced an invading army general and chopped off his head. Judith performs with nine disembodied voices: male prisoners from Warsaw’s Białołęka Prison; a chorus with skin in the game when it comes to matters of violence and virtue.
Joining these absent men and women on stage is renowned soprano Jacqueline Dark in the role of Judith, Shirley Gibson and Sue Pickard of MADE, an ensemble of musicians led by percussionist and conductor Gary Wain, and the voices of two women from Mary Hutchinson’s Women’s Prison, Tasmania, who lend the story a Tassie take on Judith’s crime: courage or madness?
The works premiere was presented in Hobart’s Theatre Royal as part of the MONA FOMA Festival 2021. Judith’s Return has been six years in the making, including the lengthy process of gaining access to Białołęka — one of eastern Europe’s largest detention centres. Working with a Polish translator and sound recordist, James Brennan ran a six week program in the prison’s gymnasium with nine men currently imprisoned at Białołęka. The offenders were invited to contribute as experts and discuss their own ideas on crime and virtue. From these unrehearsed conversations that drew on personal experiences, Polish history and the moral codes of the street, a moving and philosophical narrative voice emerges.
Here in Hobart, a specially prepared video version of the opera will be presented to an audience inside the Risdon Prison walls.