An A-list soundtrack in a B-movie feature
There’s a well-known episode of The Simpsons where Homer is asked to design the perfect car. With his brother’s blessing, Homer sets about giving it all the bells and whistles possible. In theory, it should have everything you could possibly want in a car. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work out that way. The same holds true for Roger Doyle’s electronic opera, ‘Heresy,’ running at the Project Arts Centre as part of their Project 50 celebrations. Despite having a lot to offer on paper, the whole just doesn't come together as well as it should, with Doyle’s four-star score being given little real expression in this three-star production.
Doyle’s electronic opera concerns itself with episodes from the life of sixteenth century genius, Giordano Bruno, interspersed with poorly realised fragments from Bruno's play ‘Il Candelaio.' Renaissance man, playwright, former monk and Italian free thinker, Bruno’s cosmological and personal beliefs fell foul of the Catholic Church, who had him burnt at the stake for heresy in 1600. Doyle’s tight, often monochromatic score is deeply evocative of a man ahead of his times, with its sublime and haunting Overture establishing a simple motif of melodic piano being interrupted by electronic interjections, like the future breaking through into the present. Throughout, Doyle’s confined and refined score is consistently engaging, but its operatic component is a little more problematic.
To begin with, opera or choral, it’s up for debate. Yet in either regard, it must be acknowledged that voices in ‘Heresy’ are nothing less than sublime. With singers performing multiple roles, Morgan Crowley, Daire Halpin, Caitríona O’Leary and Jack Walsh are each exquisite. As is Robert Crowe who, vocally, delivers a truly astounding performance. As does relative newcomer Aimee Banks, a fourteen-year-old soprano with an amazing future ahead of her. Along with Doyle’s score, voices are unquestionably the highlight of the night. But on more than one occasion they compete to be heard with Doyle’s recorded soundtrack, losing out each time. A situation not helped by an often half heard, and less than stellar libretto by Jocelyn Clarke and director Eric Fraad. More successful when delivered as text rather than song, lyrics often struggle to be heard, and what is heard deals heavily in the factual and the abstract, telling us little new or of interest about the man or his experiences not already garnered from the programme.
Costume designer, Bruno Schwengl works himself and his cast incredibly hard, especially Daire Halpin and Caitríona O’Leary, with an endless array of costume changes. But the effect is ultimately confusing, landing ‘Heresy’ in an abstract, no man’s land of mixed messages, dominated by all too obvious references. Apart from being unimaginative during 'Heresy's' ending, Kevin McFadden’s lighting design consistently adds depth and warmth to Andrew Clancy’s somewhat sterile set, which features more chair changes than you’d find at a Dublin Flea Market. Justine Doswell’s choreography, along with director Eric Fraad’s movement direction, are both extremely loose and disappointing, imbued with a forced formality but no real grace, lacking innovation, with the whole moving at a pedestrian pace.
Opera has provided some incredibly innovative, multi-disciplinary productions in recent times, including the excellent 'The Last Hotel,’ and ‘The Last Siren,’ where voice, text, staging and score converge in wonderfully interesting and exciting ways. Feeling at times like the Church it condemns, wanting to look all modern but looking too set in old ways, ‘Heresy’ is neither as exciting nor as innovative as it could have been. Like an A-list soundtrack in a B-movie feature, Doyle’s almost ambient score for ‘Heresy,’ along with the vocal prowess on display, stands head and shoulders above the production itself. A production where the programme proves to be a vital tool, without which little new is learnt about the great Giordano Bruno. And without which a downloadable copy of Doyle’s excellent score cannot be accessed. A giveaway at four euro.
‘Heresy’ an electronic opera by Roger Doyle, runs at The Project Arts Centre until November 5th
For more information, visit The Project Arts Centre