Many disciplines, one opera

I recently wrote two articles which complement each other – imagine it as a diptych of sorts – on a contemporary opera, Kepler’s Trial:

  • the first is a review, for Seen And Heard International, of the work by composer Tim Watts (Cambridge and Royal College of Music)
  • the second focuses on the unusual inter-disciplinary effort behind the opera. The article, for Talking Humanities*, consists of an interview with Prof. Ulinka Rublack (Cambridge).

*curated by the School of Advanced Study, the UK’s national centre for the support and promotion of the humanities

Why write two articles about it? Because the Kepler’s Trial project is and does so much of what I think contemporary opera is capable of being and doing. It delves into the past to engage with the present.

For the review of Kepler’s Trial on Seen And Heard International, click here.

For the article in Talking Humanities on the unusual process behind the opera, click here.

Image credits:

Statue by Jakob Wilhelm Fehrle dedicated to Katharina Kepler in Eltingen (Leonberg, Germany). Reproduced under GNU Free Documentation licence.

Portrait of Johannes Kepler. Reproduced under Public Domain licence.

Image from Seen and Heard International website.

Image from Talking Humanities website.

Opera and the present

Kepler's Trial - resized

Cerys Purser (Katharina) in Kepler’s Trial © Aura Satz

My latest review for Seen And Heard International is of Kepler’s Trial by Tim Watts. You can access it freely by clicking here.

Kepler’s Trial is a remarkable example of opera firmly engaging with the present – a characteristic of this art form since its earliest days. It does so in two interrelated ways: by condensing and conveying the results of uncompromising scholarship; and by revisiting the past. It tells the story of Katharina Kepler (1546-1622), accused of witchcraft in 1615, and of her son Johannes (1571-1630), the famous astronomer, who defended her during her six-year trial. By shedding light on true historical events, it confronts us with present-day attitudes towards big themes, as if a magical telescope which can probe the past had hit upon a mirror and found its own image hazily but surely reflected back.

The panel discussion which preceded the sold-out performance at the V&A highlighted some of the themes. Prof. Ulinka Rublack, whose The Astronomer and the Witch offers the basis for the opera, spoke about old women’s vulnerability to injurious representations. Prof. Simon Schaffer provided insights into Kepler’s complexity as a man rooted in his time and yet also transcending it (no surprise the space observatory launched by Nasa to discover Earth-like planets is named after Kepler). Dame Marina Warner placed the astronomer’s youthful The Dream in the context of wonder tales and representations of ‘wise women’. The composer Tim Watts and the video artist Aura Satz shared some of the considerations which went into the music, libretto and film elements (see review).

Behind Kepler’s Trial is a multi-disciplinary effort involving scholars from the University of Cambridge and other institutions, across several faculties. A successful synthesis of that effort into a compelling outcome is worth shouting about and being brought to a wider public.

Image credits:

Photo by Aura Satz ©. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.