To Traverse Water

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Opera by Constantine Koukias
Librettist Constantine Koukias
Language Ecclesiastical and Modern Greek
Premiere1992 (1992)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

To Traverse Water is an opera by Constantine Koukias a Tasmanian composer and opera director of Greek ancestry based in Amsterdam, where he is known by his Greek name of Konstantin Koukias. The opera depicts a young Greek woman's departure for Australia and her settlement there. Her tale is loosely based on that of Koukias’ mother, and the opera makes direct reference to her at the end of the show when a slide picture of her appears, along with a tape of her voice intoning an old village song.

Constantine Koukias is a Tasmanian composer and opera director of Greek ancestry based in Amsterdam, where he is known by his Greek name of Konstantin Koukias. He is the co-founder and artistic director of IHOS Music Theatre and Opera, which was established in 1990 in Tasmania's capital city, Hobart.


Writing of the 1995 Melbourne Festival production, The Age's Jim Davidson noted that "with the modern decline in church-going, one of opera's key functions is to offer ritual re-enactment at an emotionally intense level". [1]

To Traverse Water blends instrumental music, operatic singing, folk song, drama, dance, light sculpture, art installations and film to create a hybrid performance piece. [2] Sung in Ecclesiastical and Modern Greek, the text is drawn from fragments of the Old Testament, the New Testament, the I Ching, Greek folk songs, the Divine Liturgy, and the writings of Kostas Gionis, Vasiliki Koukias (Constantine's mother) and Koukias himself. The work is in two parts and features eight singers, five speaking voices and seven musicians.

Old Testament First part of Christian Bibles based on the Hebrew Bible

The Old Testament is the first part of Christian Bibles, based primarily upon the Hebrew Bible, a collection of ancient religious writings by the Israelites believed by most Christians and religious Jews to be the sacred Word of God. The second part of the Christian Bible is the New Testament.

New Testament Second division of the Christian biblical canon

The New Testament is the second part of the Christian biblical canon, the first part being the Old Testament, based on the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament discusses the teachings and person of Jesus, as well as events in first-century Christianity. Christians regard both the Old and New Testaments together as sacred scripture. The New Testament has frequently accompanied the spread of Christianity around the world. It reflects and serves as a source for Christian theology and morality. Extended readings and phrases directly from the New Testament are incorporated into the various Christian liturgies. The New Testament has influenced religious, philosophical, and political movements in Christendom and left an indelible mark on literature, art, and music.

<i>I Ching</i> text of ancient China

The I Ching or Yi Jing, also known as Classic of Changes or Book of Changes, is an ancient Chinese divination text and the oldest of the Chinese classics. Possessing a history of more than two and a half millennia of commentary and interpretation, the I Ching is an influential text read throughout the world, providing inspiration to the worlds of religion, psychoanalysis, literature, and art. Originally a divination manual in the Western Zhou period (1000–750 BC), over the course of the Warring States period and early imperial period (500–200 BC) it was transformed into a cosmological text with a series of philosophical commentaries known as the "Ten Wings". After becoming part of the Five Classics in the 2nd century BC, the I Ching was the subject of scholarly commentary and the basis for divination practice for centuries across the Far East, and eventually took on an influential role in Western understanding of Eastern thought.

As with other large-scale Koukias operas such as Days and Nights with Christ and Tesla - Lightning in His Hand , To Traverse Water is performed in the vast spaces so crucial to early Koukias operas produced by the IHOS Experimental Music Theatre Troupe (now IHOS Music Theatre and Opera) [3] and features "truly epic staging". [4] Describing its 1995 production for the Greek Festival of Sydney, James Waites applauds Ann Wulff's visual production design: "From the roof hang a half-dozen fishing boats, mechanised oars sweeping the air, a potent image holding this story of human transport together." [4]

Days and Nights with Christ is the first of five full-scale operas by the Constantine Koukias a Tasmanian composer and opera director of Greek ancestry based in Amsterdam, where he is known by his Greek name of Konstantin Koukias. This was the first opera / music theatre production by IHOS Experimental Theatre Troupe. It premiered at Hobart’s Salamanca Arts Festival in 1990 and two years later was a highlight of the Festival of Sydney. The work, which explores images associated with schizophrenia, was inspired by the experiences of the composer’s brother and by their shared Greek heritage.

Tesla – Lightning in His Hand is a large-scale opera about Serbian American engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla, composed by Constantine Koukias a Tasmanian composer and opera director of Greek ancestry based in Amsterdam, where he is known by his Greek name of Konstantin Koukias, with libretto by Marianne Fisher.

IHOS Music Theatre and Opera is a Tasmanian opera company was established in Hobart in 1990, by composer and artistic director Constantine Koukias, and production director Werner Ihlenfeld to create original music-theatre and opera works.

The opera's narrative is presented in a simple, montage structure: Part One is set in Greece, Part Two in Australia. Through the culturally specific story of Despina, Koukias provides an authentic view of the immigrant experience that avoids cliche. The work, nevertheless, offers an insight into the broader tensions of multiculturalism in Australia. [5]

To Traverse Water was first produced for Hobart's Abel Tasman Festival in 1992. Sound recordings are held in the National Library of Australia, [6] and a seven-minute documentary film of the 1992 production produced by Joy Toma and directed by David Male for SBS Television is available through Screen Australia. [7] Since its last production in 1995, To Traverse Water has also featured in a number of publications, including Gordon Kerry's New Classical Music: Composing Australia [8] and RealTime's In Repertoire: A Selected Guide To Australian Music Theatre. [9]

National Library of Australia national reference library in Canberra, Australia

The National Library of Australia (NLA) is the largest reference library in Australia, responsible under the terms of the National Library Act for "maintaining and developing a national collection of library material, including a comprehensive collection of library material relating to Australia and the Australian people." In 2012–13, the National Library collection comprised 6,496,772 items, and an additional 15,506 metres (50,873 ft) of manuscript material. It is located in Parkes, Canberra, ACT.

Production credits

Original production design Ann E. Wulff, American visual artist, in association with Australian visual artists Evangelos Sakaris, Stuart Vaskess, Brian Parkes and Ben Blakenbrough.

Choreographer Christos Linou.

Original Costume Design and Fabrication Caz Pellow-Jones

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  1. Davidson, Jim 1995, "Ritual and Opera Blend in Dockside Warehouse", The Age, 1 November 1995
  2. Deeth, Jane 1993, "Transformation of the Real", Artlink, vo. 13, no. 1, May 1993
  3. Shevtsova, Maria 1996, "Greek-Australian Odysseys in a Multicultural World", Performing Arts Journal 52, vol. 18 no. 1, pp. 64-70
  4. 1 2 Waites, James 1995, "Immigrant Tale on Epic Scale", The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 March 1995
  5. Stoddart, Michael 1992, Opera, Opera, December 1992
  6. Excerpts from the opera "To traverse water" [sound recording], compact disc, Main Reading Room, Mixed Media Collection. Includes eight-page theatre program plus three sheets
  7. Screen Australia Searchable Film Database, To Traverse Water
  8. Kerry, Gordon 2009, New Classical Music: Composing Australia, UNSW Press
  9. RealTime 2000, In Repertoire: A Selected Guide to Australian Music Theatre, Australia Council