Heresy: An Electronic Opera at The Project Arts Centre, 5 November 2016

Roger Doyle’s Heresy does the previously unthinkable: it reconciles the ‘archaic’ conventions of opera with the old fashioned futurism of electronic sound, presenting us with a tale of the 16th Century that has maintained notoriety to the present day.

Detailing a series of events in the life of Giordano Bruno, noted philosopher, cosmologist, and theologist, Doyle’s work reinforces the view of Bruno as a man ahead of his time, tragically possessed of a desire for knowledge that would inevitably lead to his fiery demise.

The synthesis of old and new is a theme that permeates the production, apparent in set design as well as music. Andrew Clancy’s opening set mirrors the contrast between the classical and technological/industrial, centralizing an ornate baroque throne amongst a small jungle of scaffolding. The air above crackles and pulses with distorted sounds, following repeated rhythmic patterns that immediately evoke thoughts of the beating of a heart. Doyle’s score is sympathetic to the view of Bruno as martyr for truth, exploiting the notions of futurism that remain attached to the electronic to emphasise the vastness of the universe that so captivated him. Encompassing reverberant sustained notes, partials, crackling feedback and, eventually, the crackling of fire, the electronic score provides far more subtle accompaniment than could be devised using traditional instruments.

The insertion of scenes from Bruno’s Il Candelaio—introduced by Jack Walsh’s exquisitely humourous Janitor—once more enforce the contrast between the historic and modern. These brief comic interludes—featuring bumbling professors, disguised wives and a generous helping of innuendo—hark back to the origins of opera, and provide a brief escape from the gravity of Bruno’s trial.

Morgan Crowley’s Bruno is suitably inscrutable, presented—vocally and physically—as a totem of purity, a reflection, it seems, on the learned monk that he was, rather than the heretic that he was purported to be. Crowley’s clarity of tone lends an almost hypnotic quality to the simplicity of Doyle’s vocal writing, particularly when paired with Aimee Banks’ young Bruno. Banks, having made her Irish concert debut in October, is most certainly one to watch, and proved herself more than capable of sharing a stage and holding the audience’s attention. If this performance—and production—is anything to go by, we have a lot look forward to in future.

Programme:

Heresy: An Electronic Opera by Roger Doyle; libretto by Jocelyn Clarke; Directed by Eric Fraad

Cast: Aimee Banks, Caitríona O’Leary, Daire Halpin, Jack Walsh, Morgan Crowley and Robert Crowe
Musicians: Francesco Turrisi and Nick Roth
Lighting Design: Kevin McFadden
Set Design: Andrew Clancy
Choreographer: Liz Roche and Justine Doswell

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