Opera Today: A review by Stephen J Mudge
Heresy, Electronic Opera in Dublin About Giordano Bruno
Travellers to Rome may have noticed that in the middle of the vegetable market, the Campo Dei Fiori, there is a statue in memory of the Dominican friar, philosopher, scientist and poet, Giordano Bruno, who was tried as a heretic in 1593 and burned at the stake in 1600.
It was the tragic story of this martyr to science, which inspired the Irish composer Roger Doyle and the producer Eric Fraad to create the electronic opera Heresy performed in Dublin’s Project Arts Centre.
Bruno ran into trouble at an early stage of his celebrated career by challenging not only key catholic doctrines, but the whole cosmic system, proposing a revolutionary concept of infinity. Travelling through France and England, meeting all the major thinkers of the time, and while in London possibly spying on Catholic conspirators, under the pseudonym “Henry Fagot” for Sir Francis Walsingham, secretary of state for Queen Elizabeth, Bruno had a spectacular life. His fascination with memory and language have influenced and inspired artists such as James Joyce who enjoyed punning on the name of the Dublin publisher “Browne and Nolan”—incorporating the name of Bruno’s home town Nola. Joyce’s novel Finnegan’s Wake contains over four hundred references to Bruno. It was therefore particularly appropriate that this particular heresy captured the imagination of Doyle.
The opera is an ensemble piece with singers taking on a variety of roles with dramatic dexterity. The intimacy of the studio theatre, allowed the audience to appreciate Fraad’s detailed work with the soloists. The opera in two acts of around an hour each was formed by various snippets of scenes from Bruno’s life, including scenes from his farce Il candelaio (The Candlebearer) leading to the redemptive moment of his death by fire. Doyle used a fascinating variety of voices including male soprano, Robert Crowe, particularly effective as an extravagantly evil Cardinal Bellarmine, as as well as an actor, Jack Walsh, using spoken dialogue. The tone of his electronic score was often meditative with words generally set slowly, creating an atmosphere of sustained reverence. The musical language was hybrid, with moments bringing to mind the minimalist approach of Philip Glass, and others where exciting rhythmic percussion suggested an altogether more popular idiom. Occasionally the vocal lines lacked architectural force, but the second half leading to the execution lent credibility to the approach as the music of the stratosphere took on a sustained universality to echo Bruno’s limitless philosophical horizons. The final moments also found Fraad’s production raising the emotional temperature of the evening with some impressive video projections of flames against the simple scaffolded set.
Lovely performances from fourteen-year old soprano Aimee Banks, who sang the role of Giordano Bruno as a boy — a crystal clear voice which was an evening long pleasure. Morgan Crowley made an intense and moving Bruno with great support from rising young Irish soprano Daire Halpin as amongst others an authoritative Elizabeth 1st, and Caitríona O’Leary, who came into her own as Circe in the final meditative moments of the opera.
Stephen J Mudge