From Overt to Covert

The Changing Role of Cultural Commentary in Australian Operatic Repertoire 1990-2009


  • Dr Timothy John McKenry Australian Catholic University


Australian opera, Art music, Australian cultural identity


Australian opera in the 1990s was characterised by an overt interest in telling and retelling the stories of Australia’s immediate past. From the building of the Sydney Opera House to the trial of Lindy Chamberlain, numerous operas from this period explicitly engaged in social discourse designed to challenge prevailing notions of Australian cultural identity. Conversely, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, Australian opera has increasingly employed classical myth and European literature as the impetus for libretto and plot, eschewing an overt focus on Australian cultural material. This article examines the Australian operatic repertoire of the period and, through case studies focussing on various operas, explores the changing modes of social commentary embodied within the repertoire. Through an examination of actual operas and the commentary surrounding Australian opera, this paper posits that, while the  repertoire is marked by diverse approaches to music style and idiom, it is nevertheless united by either overt or covert interactions with contemporary Australian social discourse.

Author Biography

Dr Timothy John McKenry, Australian Catholic University

Timothy McKenry is a senior lecturer in visual and performing arts at the Australian Catholic University. His research interests include an examination of the narratives used to account for style change in contemporary art music, Australian art music, issues of ethics in music practice and post common-practice tonal functions.




How to Cite

McKenry, T. J. (2022). From Overt to Covert: The Changing Role of Cultural Commentary in Australian Operatic Repertoire 1990-2009. Journal of Music Research Online, 4. Retrieved from