Peter Goldsworthy has written two opera libretti, both with Richard Mills as the composer: Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1996), and Batavia (2001). Batavia won Mills and Goldsworthy the 2002 Robert Helpmann Award for Best Opera and Best New Australian Work. The Sydney premiere was at the Sydney Opera House on 19 August 2006 was conducted by the Mills and attended by the Goldsworthy.
Batavia is a story of hope, cruelty and the possibility of forgiveness, set within a powerful and communicative musical landscape, and was performed by some of Australia's greatest singers.

Batavia (2001)

The Batavia was the greatest ship of the Dutch East Indies Company. Leaving Amsterdam for the colony of Java in 1628, with 300 men, women and children aboard, it was wrecked along the Western Australian coast. After the ship's commander set off to get help, the fanatical crewman Jeronimus Cornelisz instigated a reign of terror, in which 125 people aboard were murdered. Cornelisz used strange heretical beliefs in part to control his followers, and promoted a philosophy that absolute amoralism was proof of purity.

One of the strangest and most incredible stories in the history of navigation, the Batavia incident inspired William Golding to write The Lord of the Flies. It has now inspired Mills and Goldsworthy to create a powerful and compelling opera exploring the fragility of the rule of law, the destructive power of greed and lust, the vulnerability of innocence and virtue. 


 Extract

Songs from the libretto for The Batavia.

1. Commander Pelsaert's Monologue

Once more I stand at Holland's rim,
On the very rind of all the Fruits
Of civil Life I hold most sweet,
Staring discontented at the Sea.
Ten years I dwelt in Eastern Lands,
Ten years from golden Amsterdam,
Driven less by merchant's Duty,
than by private, restless Odyssey.
Too soon my Holiday is passed,
Home's sweet respite is done.
No true Penelope awaited me,
No Telemachus, faithful son,
Alone, despite ship's Company,
I pass again beyond the Dike,
Suffering the cruellest of needs
The lust to know and find.
For Knowledge is an Opium,
And as the capstan-ratchet winds
In one direction only, ever up,
Unsated Curiosity seeks
An ever higher Comprehension
That permits no peace of Mind,
And tosses my uprooted Soul
Like seaweed in a wat'ry wind,
And shrinks the sum of all I know
To this: there is nothing
In the Seven Seas as turbulent
As the four small chambers of the heart.

2. Banquet Chorus

Bring hither bread and foaming ale,
Soft ciders and spiced wines
Bring bakemeats and pork-pies,
Bring oranges and greeny limes,
Round cheeses from the north,
Soft cheeses from the south,
Sweetmeats and pumpernickel,
Pastries that amaze the mouth,
And Rhenish wine that sets afloat
The mind as if that mind
Is just a boat inside a boat
Essay'd upon an easeful sea.

3. Heretic's Grace

All things we eat are made of sun
And rain and earth and sweat of Man.
Thank none but tillers of the soil,
The fishermen on wat'ry fields,
Fishwives who gut the firmly dead,
Bakers who daily knead our bread.
All food upon the common dish,
These meagre loaves, these gaping fish
That feed our shipborne multitude
Fall from the hands of mortal Men,
Being nothing less than miracles
As great as any claimed by Him.

4. Mermaid's Song

Fin and scale, sand and shale,
From seagrass plait my hair,
Conch and coral shape my ears
Of driftwood, my bleached bones.
Fin and scale, sand and shale,
My nipples are sea-pearls,
My face is flesh, my flesh is fish,
My eyes are smooth sea-stones.
Fin and scale, sand and shale,
Oyster, reef and whalebone,
Periwinkle, whelk and clam
Ornament my throne.
Chorus
Our face is flesh, our flesh is fish,
Our eyes are smooth sea-stones,
Conch and coral shape our ears,
Of driftwood, our bleached bones.

5. Marooned

We find false haven
On this barren spit:
Death not by water
But by lack of it.

The thirsting sun
Dries tears to salt,
Our tongues are parched,
Our eyeballs melt

Till we would trade
The Seven Seas
For six short feet
Of dry Dutch turf,
Six easeful feet
Of dry Dutch earth.

6. Thanksgiving Chorus

Lord, thou hast planted here a Garden
East of Eden, a meadowed Lawn
Laden with the Foods of Heaven:
The eggs of birds and turtle-eggs,
Plump molluscs in their crusty keeps,
And meat that walks on two hind legs:

Small roes and hinds
With eyes of doves,
That innocent of men
Hop to our knives.

In this grove of flower and fruit,
Mid flocks of upright fawns that graze
Upon the Lawn compliant to pursuit,
Lord raise us from our common Fall,
Make us innocent ourselves,
And new, and thus redeem us all.

7. Preacher's Lament

Cold God, is Evil Thy true Image?
Are murderous hearts
Fair copies of Thy Heart?
Lord of hate and bitterness,
Who hath abandoned us,
My piety hath besmirched
The mem'ry of all the dead
To whom the fishes prove
The absence of Your Love.
Shame on Thee, cold God,
And shame on me.
I curse Thy Name and mine
Ten thousand times.

Cold God, as Thou with cruel heart
Hast turned Thy Face from us,
I turn my face from Thee!
There is no God, and if there be
A soul within the body's cloth
The moth of death eats both.

8. Wiebbe's Lullaby

Sleep my darling sons
In the vessel of God's Heart,
The whisper of His breath
Doth sing upon the sail
And play about the ropes
Like a bow upon a viol.

His Face is turned this way,
His Watch will never end.
Fear not sharp axe and knife
Fear not hot Sun, wild Sea
Love of God and love of Man
Nourish and Sustain thee.

Sleep my darling sons
In the vessel of my heart
Where Love is hull and sail
And steadfast rudder and keel,
Our one enduring Ark
Stout oak in every heart.

Sleep my darling sons
God's face is turned this way
Sleep till passing time
Softly draws its blind,
And sweet forgetfulness
Gives peace from all that's past.



Reviews

Batavia (2001)

'Musically, visually and dramatically, Batavia is quite an experience.'
James Moffat.
'an exhilarating experience...'

Robin Usher, The Age

'Batavia is an Australian opera to enter repertoires here and in the antipodes...'

Humphrey McQueen, The Bulletin