BIOGRAPHICA

Winner of the 2018 APRA|AMCOS Art Music Award for Vocal Work

2017 Sydney Festival, Carriageworks Bay 20

Presented by Sydney Chamber Opera with Ensemble Offspring

Music & Concept: Mary Finsterer

Libretto: Tom Wright

Conductor: Jack Symonds

Director: Janice Muller

VIDEOS

BIOGRAPHICA TRAILER

BIOGRAPHICA ARIAS

  In Anno Domini   Aria from Scene II: The Birth of Gerolamo Cardano  Soloist: Jane Sheldon, soprano

In Anno Domini

Aria from Scene II: The Birth of Gerolamo Cardano

Soloist: Jane Sheldon, soprano

  Qui Primo Aspect Noli   Aria from Scene IX: The Crime  Soloist: Anna Fraser, mezzo soprano

Qui Primo Aspect Noli

Aria from Scene IX: The Crime

Soloist: Anna Fraser, mezzo soprano

  Your Dusk is Near   Aria from Scene V: The Demise of Chiara  Soloist: Jessica O'Donoghue, soprano

Your Dusk is Near

Aria from Scene V: The Demise of Chiara

Soloist: Jessica O'Donoghue, soprano

BIOGRAPHICA

~ complete work ~

 
 This archival video of the Sydney Festival 2017 performance is on an unlisted YouTube channel.  The scene–by–scene story is included in the drop-down menu of the YouTube link. The drop-down menu also contains timecode for direct navigation to the different scenes.

This archival video of the Sydney Festival 2017 performance is on an unlisted YouTube channel.

The scene–by–scene story is included in the drop-down menu of the YouTube link. The drop-down menu also contains timecode for direct navigation to the different scenes.

 

SYNOPSIS

 

Biographica is a new opera by award winning Australian composer Mary Finsterer with libretto by celebrated writer, Tom Wright. Informed by the principles of Renaissance music, and conceived for one actor, five singers and eleven musicians, Biographica is inspired by the extraordinary life and demise of Gerolamo Cardano.

Gerolamo Cardano was a prolific inventor, a flawed father, a solitary, aggressive and peculiar soul with a magnificent and eccentric Renaissance mind; a human who listened to guardian angels, swore by science, and dreamt of defeating time. He wrote the first texts on the mathematics of gambling and cheating, was a world-renowned surgeon, invented algebra, and was the pioneer of sign language.

The opera takes the form of a sequence of portraits, much like Counter-Maniera painting; rich, florid, bold, Greenaway meets Caravaggio. The portraits are sung episodes, combining principle characters singing in English and choruses singing in Latin, focusing on moments of transformation, elation and tragedy within Cardano’s life: the events surrounding his birth (his mother’s attempt to abort him), the rise and fall of his three children (his eldest son’s crimes and beheading, his daughter’s prostitution and syphilis) and the moments of original thought and invention that garnered him with temporary fame and celebrity (saving the life of the archbishop and the day he correctly predicted the date and time of his own death).

These portraits are presented not in a linear fashion, but in a manner that expresses a mind reflecting upon the events of one’s life that haunt and propel one forward.

Between each portrait are Beckett-like monologues to be spoken by Cardano. Addressed directly to the audience (accompanied by music), they are the lessons and aphorisms written by Cardano where he aims to share wisdom and secure his place in history. His writings range from the insightful to the outright bizarre, capturing a moment in history where the world was taking a terrifying leap forward in thought and complexity. His writings reveal to us a soul deeply human and magnificent in imagination.

The libretto and the interlocking musical events in the opera capture the experience of a febrile moment in time; a time in our history when the world of fact and the world of the soul were intermeshed, when science meant leaps of faith, and leaps of faith held great terrors for the soul.

 
 
 
 

CREDITS

Music & Concept: Mary Finsterer 

Libretto: Tom Wright 

Conductor: Jack Symonds 

Director: Janice Muller 

PRODUCTION

Set & Costume Design: Charles Davis 

Lighting Design: Matt Cox AV 

Design: James Brown 

Creative Consultant: Matthew Lutton 

REVIEWS


The Australian
‘Inventive, engaging, stimulating and moving, Biographica is an outstanding new opera. 
It deserves regular performances as well as a permanent place in the repertory.’
MURRAY BLACK  January 9, 2017

The Australian 
'Biographica’s complex yet crystalline textures, evocative instrumental colours, intricate rhythms and Renaissance-inspired vocal writing resulted in an absorbing, appealing sound-world…’
MURRAY BLACK  January 9, 2017

Sydney Morning Herald  ★★★★
'Finsterer's ear for original, dramatically appropriate instrumental and vocal combinations and the way musical processes intersect with mathematical ones, are a collision of the sensual and the rational.'
PETER MCCALLUM   January 8, 2017

Sydney Morning Herald  ★★★★
'Finsterer's score recreates the Renaissance sound world with modern musical codes, using imaginative instrumentation, scattered modernist textures, and instrumental figuration to animate, transform and sometimes subvert the glistening vocal sonorities
PETER MCCALLUM   January 8, 2017

Limelight Magazine ★★★★
Finsterer’s score thrums with energy throughout, making this a worthy addition to the Australian operatic canon.’ 
ANGUS MCPHERSON   January 8, 2017

TimeOut    ★★★★
‘Finsterer draws deep from the medieval minstrel origins of Renaissance music, but links up with intervening periods and contemporary art music styles, delivering highly appealing yet substantive fabrics for every scene. It succeeds paradoxically by being both palatable and unsettling, like the tale it carries. A triumphant level of achievement...'
JASON CATLETT   January 10, 2017
  

CAST

Gerolamo Cardano: Mitchell Butel 

Cardano's Mother: Jane Sheldon 

Chiara: Jessica O'Donoghue 

Caterina: Anna Fraser 

Aldo/ Cassanate: Andrew Goodwin 

Giambattista/ Archbishop: Simon Lobelson 

Ensemble Offspring: Claire Edwardes, Artistic Director 

Audio recording: Australian Broadcasting Corporation 

Video recording: Hospital Hill

 

TimeOut    ★★★★
'... an exemplary achievement for the Sydney Festival: new, fresh high art that will be enjoyed by a wider audience than any accountant would have predicted.’
JASON CATLETT   January 10, 2017

Bachtrack    ★★★★
Mary Finsterer has managed a musical melange that crosses effortlessly and delightfully from the Renaissance to today which makes Biographica the most musically successful of the young Sydney Chamber Opera's commissions.’
JEREMY ECCLES   January 9, 2017

Partial Durations / Real time 
'...a major new work by one of our finest living composers.'
ALISTAIR NOBLE   January 12, 2017

Partial Durations / Real time
'Biographica is full of lovely colours, both dramatic and subtle. The result is captivating, intelligent, and theatrically powerful.'
ALISTAIR NOBLE   January 12, 2017

Partial Durations / Real time
'Biographica is a beautiful, haunting and thought-provoking work from an important composer of our time.’
ALISTAIR NOBLE   January 12, 2017

Harry Fiddler
'...thank goodness for opera, thank goodness for composer Mary Finsterer and thank goodness for the many hands which came together to make this palimpsest of sights, sounds, words and music.' 
HARRIET CUNNINGHAM   January 8, 2017

Financial Times
‘[With] meticulous craftsmanship in her toolkit, Mary Finsterer’s opera is a vote of confidence in the mainstream appeal of new music.’
SHIRLEY APTHORP   January 10, 2017