Wednesday, January 18, 2017


"Cardano was magnificent and eccentric mind - a prolific inventor and flawed father, solitary, aggressive, peculiar. A man who would listen to a guardian angel, swear by science, and dream of defeating time. He wrote the first texts on the mathematics of gambling, was a world-renowned surgeon, invented algebra, and was a pioneer of sign language."

It is Gerolamo Cardano (1501 - 1576) ~ a renaissance Renaissance man, philosopher, inventor and physician surgeon, and member of the Royal College to boot ~ who Sydney Chamber Opera, in association with Ensemble Offspring, brings to light with their marvellous first work of the year. I thought it a stunning piece of theatre. Like (say) Mayakovsky, Russia's everyman's poet and revolutionary, they find these great figures of great import to bring into our focus. I love it.

Wiki details on Cardano here.

SCO seem to be adopting an increasingly minimalist approach to their presentations, at least in these new works. Owen Wingrave by contrast was traditionally staged, for a tele-opera anyway. The Rape of Lucretia later in the year will be interesting, to say the least.  While not yet at the extremes of Noh theatre, that's the direction, and a good one too. The orchestra is (increasingly) visible on stage, sets non-existent, the action played out in the bare walled space, and props spare. The biggest prop for Biographica was a wheeled-on iron poster bed, archbishop therein. This puts tremendous pressure on the director - the incredibly effective Janice Muller from Malthouse - and the performers, deprived of gimmicky, illusions, and material emotional-triggering tricks. Except for lighting, simply but well designed by Matt Cox.

Music and Concept was/were in the hands of Mary Finsterer and Tom Wright owns the libretto. The amazing Jack Symonds was Mr Music. I found it all intoxicating - a relentless almost ecclesiastical beat of seductive textures, minimalist strings repeating themselves over portentous rumblings of tympani and percussion, inevitably dragging him/us toward the day of death, from whence it all began. It was a serious case of not-happy-Gerry, and then you're dead.

Enligthenment was a century or so away, and Cardano's world was that of Divine Order, the stars the supposed manifestation of His Brilliance. Little did they know what chaos is out there, disguised behind the mask of zillions of light years as dazzling rhythms and harmony. (By the way, for a marvellous read looking into the ring with Reason vs Faith having a round or two, try James Gaines if you haven't already.)

Anyway, little consolation to be found anywhere for Gerolamo, though he did sort out the Archbishop's near death from uncleanliness. As the programme notes point out, the search for knowledge helped little in the gaining of wisdom, as each of the twelve scenes presented underline. Like 'pictures in a gallery' we assemble some concept of this distracted mind, and perhaps a better concept of time, decisions plucked from some great data base onto which we continually stumble in a pseudo-linear framework.

Mr McCallum plays good tribute to each player hereSignificantly, Mitchell Butel's Cardano was delineated by being solely for spoken word which put tremendous pressure on the voice (not subtitled) to deliver the kind of emotional impact the vocal (subtitled) scoring could. Or rather, the other way around - it highlighted why we sing.

                                         (call - Jack Symonds centre, acknowledging the orchestra)

Packed house and much acclamation and enthusiasm.

So off we went, happy little vegemites into the hot summer's night only just descending. I wore shorts!

                                                          (and I wasn't the only one)

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