Eliza Fraser sings : for soprano, flute and piano
by Peter Sculthorpe (1978)
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There are a number of versions of the story of Eliza Fraser. The
following is the one that Barbara Blackman chose to use in this
In 1836 the merchant ship Stirling Castle, under Captain Fraser, was wrecked off the coast of what is now Queensland. Unable to put to shore, the survivors took to the long-boat and sailed southward. The boat leaked, and supplies of food and water were soon exhausted. The captain's wife, Mrs Fraser, gave birth to a baby, but it was drowned in the boat-water. After putting ashore on a coastal island, later known as Fraser Island, the captain and his crew were killed by aborigines. Mrs Fraser was taken prisoner, stripped of her clothes, beaten and made to work in what was to her a degrading manner.
The aborigines, the Kabi people, believed white men and women to be returned spirits of the dead, having observed how black flesh pales when burning. They called together a corroboree, in order to bring about the ritual mating of their She-Ghost, Mrs Fraser, with a He-Ghost, an escaped convict living with a neighbouring tribe.
The corroboree caused Mrs Fraser to take refuge in a dream that the convict would return as a lover and lead her away into a paradisal existence. Immured in this fantasy, she was then able to endure her miseries. Unexpectedly, she was rescued and taken back to what she regarded as civilization.
Her dream shattered and her sanity shaken, Mrs Fraser later set herself up in a showground booth in Hyde Park, London. There she displayed her scars and told her stories to all and sundry for the price of sixpence apiece.
In six parts, Prelude, Shipwreck, Capture, Corroboree, Interlude, Escape, the work is concerned with Mrs Fraser soliciting customers outside her booth, her mind wandering between the then-present and the romantically-remembered past.
Instrumentation: Soprano, flute (doubling piccolo, alto flute), piano.
Duration: 18 min.
Dedication note: Dedicated to Barbara Blackman
Commission note: Commissioned by Lyric Arts Theatre.
Main source for information contained in the text is Michael Alexander: Mrs Fraser on the Fatal Shore, London, 1971.
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