At its heart, all opera is about the voice. But a new project by Sydney Chamber Opera, titled The Howling Girls, will take this fascination to disturbing new lengths, drilling down into the human instrument’s most primal elements, in a piece with a completely wordless libretto.

The concept for The Howling Girls, a collaboration between director Adena Jacobs and composer Damien Ricketson, with soprano Jane Sheldon – and her voice – in the starring role, began with a tale that has all the hallmarks of a horror film. In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York, five unrelated young women presented at hospitals across the city with identical symptoms: unable to swallow, they were convinced that debris or body parts from the attack had lodged in their throats – but the surgeon who examined them found nothing.

Howling Girls, Sydney Chamber Opera Sydney Chamber Opera’s  The Howling Girls. Image © Samuel Hodge

The story of these young women lodged itself in Jacobs mind as she began thinking about the project for SCO. “It’s very haunting, it’s very upsetting, it makes a lot of sense, and I think there was something about the image...