15 Feb 2006
BARRY: The Intelligence Park
Irish composer Gerald Barry insists that “Really, my music is very straightforward.
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Irish composer Gerald Barry insists that “Really, my music is very straightforward.
It’s pure emotion” (in an interview with Ian Hewitt on telegraph.co.uk). Indeed, this sentiment is audible in his first opera, The Intelligence Park, now available on a 2-disc set from the NMC label.
The Intelligence Park is in some ways a quintessentially operatic tale; the libretto by Vincent Deane is replete with greed, betrayal, unrequited love, conflict between private love and public duty, and of course, homosexuals. Unlike operas of previous centuries that leave issues of same-sex love to be guessed at by the listener, The Intelligence Park features two sets of long-term “companions” whose relationships are destroyed through the course of the opera.
Set in Dublin in 1753, The Intelligence Park’s protagonist, Robert Paradies, is a composer of opera seria struggling with writer’s block. As Paradies is reminded by his long-time companion D’Esperaudieu, he is required to marry the none-too-talented Jerusha, daughter of the wealthy magistrate Sir Joshua Cramer in order to inherit wealth that will allow him to dedicate himself solely to composing opera. At a party held in order to cement the engagement between Paradies and Jerusha, Paradies meets and becomes obsessed with the castrato Serafino. The barriers between Paradies and the object of his affections include not only his relationship with D’Esperaudieu and his engagement to Jerusha, but also Serfino’s long-time companion Faranesi and Serafino’s love for Jerusha, his music student.
Paradies finds enough inspiration for his stalled opera in his obsession for Serafino to start composing scenes for “Wattle” and “Daub.” These scenes as they are imagined by Paradies are manifest on the stage with Serafino and Jerusha acting and singing the parts of the Italian opera seria as Paradies sets them down on paper. In addition to these six “actual” characters and two imaginary ones, the score also calls for a chorus of “dummies” and boy soprano—both heard offstage. In this recording the chorus consists of the taped voices of the six soloists, and the boy soprano is also on tape.
The plot of The Intelligence Park contains references to some events that actually occurred in 1753: there was a solar eclipse and a famous castrato did elope with a wealthy young woman. Despite these true events, The Intelligence Park for the most part exemplifies the “coolness and bizarre artificiality” that first drew Barry to Deane’s libretto. Barry’s music is extremely compelling in its portrayal of the emotions of the characters throughout the opera. Barry succeeds in portraying old familiarity between Paradies and D’Esperaudieu, as well the anxiety and anger that are blocking Paradies’ creative output.
Barry uses a host of musical techniques, including pastiche (of Baroque styles), pointillistic textures, lyricism, deftly executed contrapuntal sections, and contrasting orchestral colors, to express the depths of human emotions from love to anger to self-pity to madness, and more. Barry also uses of repeated music within the opera to excellent effect. While the narrative seems a bit disjointed when one considers the libretto, the listener will not feel lost because of Barry’s deftness at manipulating the many sudden changes of mood inherent in the text.
The Intelligence Park was composed between 1981 and 1990, and it was commissioned for the MusICA Series at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Unfortunately, the opera has not been staged as a production again since its 1990 premiere. This may be in part because of the technical requirements of the soloists and the orchestra to mount such a work. In face of criticism of the virtuosic nature of music of his music, Barry defends himself saying, “All I want is to get to the heart of the text in the most direct way possible” (in interview with Hewitt about his third opera The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant). Although there is no doubt that The Intelligence Park is a challenging work for both performer and listener, the time spent is well worth it.
The Graduate Center – CUNY