Oscar and Lucinda , Peter Carey’s beloved 1988 novel about a pair of social misfits united by their compulsive gambling, has been transformed into an opera nearly as strange, slippery and exciting as the original. An obvious labour of love from composer Elliott Gyger and librettist Pierce Wilcox, the work is their second for Sydney Chamber Opera following their acclaimed adaptation of David Malouf’s Fly Away Peter. Commissioned and produced by SCO, Opera Queensland and Victorian Opera, it comes off the back of the world premiere of Opera Australia’s Whiteley , giving audiences the opportunity to reflect on what it is that makes a new work a success.

Oscar and Lucinda Jessica Aszodi and Brenton Spiteri in Sydney Chamber Opera’s Oscar and Lucinda. Photo © Zan Wimberley

Whiteleystruggled to take off because it couldn’t find a way to make its subject matter into effective theatre, telling the audience too much and yet far too little about the artist. Documenting Brett Whiteley’s life with dogged persistence, it became the latest entry in the lists of tepid biographical operas that despite high performance values, never quite comes to life. Though not without key storytelling...