SA Life

Get CityMag in your inbox. Subscribe
July 14, 2022

Alive and kicking

Premiering at Illuminate Adelaide, 'We Will Slam You With Our Wings' turns the operatic convention of the soprano’s death on its head, while taking a kick at leading men.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  • This article was produced in collaboration with the University of Adelaide.
  • Pictures: Dudley/Meyburgh

Inspiration for the video and sound installation comes from unexpected places. For singer, performer and University of Adelaide alumna Joanna Dudley, watching yet another soprano character die, which are often female roles, lit a spark. Or, better still, a raging fire.


We Will Slam You With Our Wings
15—31 July
Mortlock Wing, State Library
North Terrace, Adelaide 5000
FREEopening hours

“I was working at the Met Opera in New York and in another venue [and] watching women characters dying in performances all the time, and literally for hours a day,” Joanna recalls.

“And I was thinking, ‘That’s such a strange way of living, having this strange job’. It’s the fate of the soprano where they’re just having to die constantly. And, always, it’s a very over-the-top death.”

Joanna likens it to watching kids play-acting at dying, finding hilarity in each horrible death.

“I thought, ‘Well, let’s use that. But I’m going to work with girls and see what they make of it’.”

Joanna was also working at Park Avenue Armory, which was built in 1880 as headquarters for one of New York’s more monied and well-heeled army regiments.

“I was in a dressing room getting changed for a performance,” she says. “I was literally surrounded by these portraits of famous American military men and leaders.

“It was a really weird situation, getting out of my costume [with] 20 portraits looking down at me. I just wanted to turn this whole world on its head.”

We Will Slam You With Our Wings is a video and sound installation that portrays an army of six girls and one war mistress, played by Joanna. Across the seven video screens, each girl costumed in her own military regalia, recreates an operatic death scene, from Madame Butterfly to Brünnhilde accompanied by an opera soundtrack. Except instead of dying, they conquer.

Famous patriotic and misogynistic speeches from the world’s male dictators and leaders are rewritten, re-screamed and re-performed by the girls.

It’s a feminist riff on imperialistic portraiture “done with humour, because you can’t help but laugh”, Joanna says.


The girls involved “weren’t stage kids, just normal kids” and they studied the stances adopted by males in power to then create “their own sense of power”.

Similarly, Joanna is not an opera singer – although she is a graduate of the University of Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium of Music, where she majored in music performance while also studying Chinese and art history.

“I’m never quite satisfied just doing music, I always need to mix it with something else,” she says.

Illuminate Adelaide co-founder and creative director Rachael Azzopardi first heard about We Will Slam You With Our Wings while she was working at the Adelaide Festival. The show came back onto her radar recently courtesy of its producer, and fellow alumnus of the University, Ian Scobie, of Arts Projects Australia.

Rachael says the work, which is being shown in the Mortlock Wing of the State Library of South Australia, sits well within Illuminate Adelaide’s sphere of screen, technology and reimagining spaces.

“It’s about storytelling, and that’s what happens in libraries,” she says. “There’s a lot of humour in Joanna’s work, and particularly in this one. You can’t take too much offence and it’s very clever in turning [the men’s power] upside down.”

The work’s underlying concept is also close to Rachael’s heart; she majored in voice at the University of Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium. “I should have been an opera singer,” she says. “That’s probably why We Will Slam You With Our Wings resonates with me. I love the score and the girls singing.”

Both women studied at the Elder Conservatorium in the ’90s; Joanna was one year above Rachael who recalls it being a “great melting pot”, with the jazz, classical and voice streams, and “such a huge creative community”.

“I had a great time there,” she says.

“I did start out wanting to be an opera singer; however, I loved organising all the concerts, concert practice and the events.

“When I graduated, I got a job doing that as a side career and I really loved it. It opened my eyes to not only being on stage, but also gave me an opportunity to be backstage and really see that world as well.”

Joanna Dudley is one of many University of Adelaide alumni showcasing their talents in Illuminate Adelaide 2022.

We Will Slam You With Our Wings is free and showing in the Mortlock Wing of the State Library from 15—31 July. It’s open every day (weekends included) until late.

Find out more and register for events at the University of Adelaide’s website.

Share —