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A white man with grey hair in a suit stands looking at a male dancer knelt on the floor. The dancer wears a harness and is dancing in water.

Watershed The Death of Dr Duncan

14 – 16 June 2024

In the Joan Sutherland Theatre

Opera Australia


A smash-hit, five-star new Australian oratorio. Physically thrilling and steeped in recent history.

If I could, I would give it six stars.


The moment and the movement that changed Australia.

As his body hit the water, few heard the impact. But the ripple effect of the murderous act defied natural law and swelled to seismic scale.

It’s half a century since the infamous drowning of Dr George Ian Ogilvie Duncan; a moment in time that triggered an alleged police cover-up, a city-wide scandal, national outrage, a Scotland Yard investigation… and a glaring absence of convictions.

Most importantly, Dr Duncan’s death led South Australia to decriminalise homosexuality, ahead of the rest of the country.

Watershed, a ravishing new operatic work and the hit of the 2022 Adelaide Festival, is a collaboration between some of Australia’s most acclaimed creative talents.

Helpmann Award-winning playwright Alana Valentine and author Christos Tsiolkas (The Slap) have created a searing, no-punches-pulled libretto. Brisbane composer Joe Twist’s score is luscious and ultimately transcendent. And Australian theatre and opera legend Neil Armfield’s production is as deeply felt as it is thrillingly physical.

Written as an oratorio, Watershed turns the illicit into the sacred, through powerful choral music, solo voices and dance. It fuses inquest transcripts, press clippings, private correspondence and monologues spanning five decades of anti-gay violence, and pays tribute to the unassuming academic whose untimely death lit a fuse.

See for yourself why Watershed was met with five-star reviews, a sold-out premiere season, and rapturous, teary standing ovations at every performance.

Presented by Opera Australia and Sydney Opera House by arrangement with Adelaide Festival

Enabled by Sydney Opera House donor Professor Ross Steele AM, The Skrzynski Foundation and New Work Now donors.

Co-commissioned by Feast Festival, Adelaide Festival and State Opera South Australia, supported by Arts South Australia and by the Adelaide Festival’s Commissioning Circle, Sidney Myer Fund and Nunn Dimos Foundation.

A white man with grey hair in a suit stands looking at a male dancer knelt on the floor. The dancer wears a harness and is dancing in water.

Hear from theatre legend and Watershed director Neil Armfield

Hear from co-writers Alana Valentine and Christos Tsiolkas

Artist information


Composer & Orchestrator Joseph Twist
Libretto Alana Valentine & Christos Tsiolkas
Conductor Brett Weymark
Director Neil Armfield
Associate Director Cheryl Pickering
Set & Costume Designer Ailsa Paterson
Lighting Designer Nigel Levings
Sound Designer Jane Rossetto
Video Designer Sean Bacon
Choreographer Lewis Major
Historical Consultant Tim Reeves


Duncan/Dunstan Mark Oates
Mick O’Shea/Cop/Lawyer Pelham Andrews
Lost Boy Tomáš Kantor
Dancer Macon Esobal Riley

Opera Australia Orchestra
Opera Australia Chorus

Watch the trailer

Other information

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