Sighs of Sorrow
began when John Adams from the Adam Lindsay Gordon Commemorative Committee
approached Xavier in 2010 during the national production of the musical MACKILLOP
. John had noted that Father Woods, with whom Mary MacKillop had established her order of sisters, was a good friend of Adam Lindsay Gordon, Australia's first European poet of note. The Committee was also looking for ways to re-ignite interest in Gordon and his poetry, as despite having been very well known in the 20th century, they were now starting to slip out of the public consciousness.
The initial idea was to write a musical based on Gordon's poetry, however given the classical nature of his poems, Xavier felt that a chamber opera might be a more relevant style. After studying Gordon's poems thoroughly and using the expert resources of the ALG Commemorative Committee, Xavier came up with a shortlist of Gordon's introspective and emotional poems (as opposed to his romantic and horse-riding ones), as well as a story structure. The premise was to portray Gordon preparing for his self-inflicted end in the tea-trees at Brighton Beach (Melbourne), and as he did so for a series of flashbacks to illustrate the various setbacks in his life that would lead to the decision to ultimately take his own life.
After having set a number of Gordon's poems to music for tenor and piano, Xavier realised that the work was starting to sound like a turn-of-the-century song cycle (albeit with a modern edge). Xavier subsequently refreshed his knowledge of both the German and English tradition of lieder/song cycles (including Vaughan Williams) and decided that it would be easier to get a song cycle recorded and performed than a chamber opera (for which few production opportunities exist in Australia).
The Lieder Society of Victoria
subsequently provided support in helping to find a singer who could do justice to the role of portraying Gordon. This singer turned out to be the up-and-coming Australian tenor, Daniel Todd, who had the requisite ability to make rapid switches between a soft, almost falsetto, high voice, and a heavy dramatic tone, and who had the stamina to sing what is quite a demanding and emotional song cycle.
Coupled with the talented repetiteur and up-and-coming conductor, Daniel Carter, the first recording of the song cycle was made in 2013 at the Miechel Studios, Melbourne.