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© Joy Hester (Fair Use)

Joy Hester

Music by Lindsay Brunsdon 
Libretto by Meredith Martin

"It is really a tightrope sort of thing, living..."

Joy Hester 1920-1960

In the 1940s Joy Hester (1920 - 1960) moved in the exalted company of Albert Tucker (her husband), Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, John Perceval, Charles Blackman, writers Max Harris and Barrett Reid, and importantly, the art patrons and philanthropists John and Sunday Reed. The only female artist in the infamous 'Angry Penguins'.

Joy Hester's art was highly regarded by these people and others close to her during her lifetime, but it took more than twenty years after her death before her work started to be appreciated by a larger audience. Joy Hester is now considered by many to be one of the greatest female artists that Australia has produced. 

This opera presents a background to the drama of some of the events leading up to her split with her husband, her child, and her departure from Melbourne in April 1947. The libretto was researched through Janine Burke's biography (Joy Hester, Melbourne; Greenhouse Publications, 1983), letters (mainly between Joy and Sunday), personal interviews and accounts, and related sources. Joy Hester faced adversity with incredible courage, and a creative, indomitable life-force.


The setting is Melbourne 1947.

Scene 1 takes place at 'Heide', the home of art patrons John and Sunday Reed - a bohemian gathering where the artists express their good fortune at being in such affluent surroundings. We get to know the personalities of Albert (Tucker) John and Sunday (Reed), with a discussion of Modernism.

Scene 2 Joy and Sunday communicate through letters, in which Joy describes her frustration with motherhood, loneliness and ill-health, and ambivalence about her marriage to Albert. They celebrate their friendship and love for one another.

Scene 3 Albert, John and Sunday are in agitated discussion as to who will tell Joy the contents of a letter. Joy enters and is left with Albert, and their stilted conversation turns into a dramatic outpouring of grief, anger and worry. Albert decides to leave Australia.

Scene 4 Joy is in Sydney with her new lover and the doctor's prognosis is confirmed - she has cancer. Joy decides to leave her past behind, entrusts the care of her son to Sunday Reed, and throws herself into her new relationship, and her painting. 

Joy - Jessica Mills

Sunday Reed - Alexandra Amerides

Albert Tucker - TBC

John Reed - Daniel Felton


Sandra Liu

Leah Phillips

Tash Atkins

Angelique Tot