Heresy – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Composer: Roger Doyle
Director: Eric Fraad
Reviewer: Laura Marriott

Heresy is a remarkable electronic opera from dramaturg and composer Roger Doyle. In his first outing as composer Doyle has created a unique work that is inspired by the life and works of Renaissance figure Giordano Bruno. The Italian Dominican friar is best remembered for his cosmological theories which included, among other things that the Universe was infinite with no clear centre and he expanded upon the Copernican model with his belief in cosmic pluralism.

tell-us-block_editedAlthough he was also a philosopher, mathematician and poet, it was his cosmological theories,  which contradicted some of the main teachings of the Church, that he is best remembered for and that, ultimately, resulted in his downfall. In the early 1590s, the Roman Inquisition arrested him for heresy. Bruno refused to recant. Eventually, he was executed in 1600 when he was burned at the stake.

In Heresy, we meet Bruno as he demonstrates his system of magic memory before the court of Henry III of France. This is followed by excerpts from his inquisition, the time he spent imprisoned and the night before his execution. The narrative gives the idea that with conviction and truth anything is possible. This is then reflected in the nature of the opera itself, which is revolutionary in its delivery. In bringing Ireland its first electronic opera, Doyle has also chosen to investigate the idea of opera itself. Doyle is the co-founder of META Production, which aims to explore new forms of opera. This ambitious work shows the best of new and explorative opera, with the use of electronic music rather that a live orchestra is a unique and daring.

There are moments of light relief and surrealist humour. Heresy has a wide variety of characters, everyone from London policemen, Elizabeth I, a French maid with pink hair, a janitor with a neat line in props and one-liners, and Henry King III of France. The singers are all accomplished, especially 14-year-old soprano Aimee Banks who plays the young Bruno. There are, however, a few moments when the music threatens to make the singers difficult to hear.

The staging is minimal. In the back centre stands a throne. At either side, scaffolding with metal ladders rises above the audience. Throughout, additional props are bought on during scene changes. With practice, this process should become smoother. On the back wall of the stage are large strip lights in bold colours – blues, reds, oranges, greens – which light up throughout to signal mood changes and narrative movement.

There are frequent costume changes. One that stands out is the red outfit of Cardinal Bellarmine, who is played by male soprano Robert Crowe. While holding a copy of The Catholic Times his red suit seems to shine. His matching red boots brand new. This contrasts with the plain black of Bruno, accessorised only with the chains that bind him. Other costumes reflect the cosmological nature of Bruno’s work; white, silver and gold.

For opera lovers and those with a keen interest in music, Heresy is a brilliant watch. It is also a good choice for those with less experience. The story is intriguing and the characters unexpected and surprising. It was this reviewer’s first experience of opera and is without a doubt a very positive one that has sparked a desire to seek out other examples of the genre.

Runs until 5 November 2016 | Image: contributed

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