March 2012

Galileo Galilei: Scene 1, Opening Song

Am I blind for having knelt and lied? Or for not having knelt long enough?

The opening scene takes place on the final day of Galileo's life, in 1642. This opening scene frames the rest of the opera. All the scenes that follow — which we have already discussed — come from this moment of recollection; we imagine what Galileo would have turned over and over in his mind as he assessed the events of his life. His trial. His beloved oldest daughter. His scientific experiments. A walk in the garden with the future pope. A moment of discovery, in church with his child. The invention of his telescope. And a moment in his childhood, watching his father's opera.

There is no end to the list of things I cannot see. Her straw hat in the bottom of the boat. The rose. The telescope.

(Did you know that it's a myth that Galileo became blind by looking too long at the sun through his telescope? In truth, his many drawings of the sunspots he could see were created by projecting the telescope image of the sun onto a piece of white paper, where they could then be traced. Galileo was most likely blind due simply to cataracts and old age.)

Scene 1 is a monologue, full of longing, tinged with regret. But also, to the end, insistent that he knew what he knew; that he was right. It closes with the line he was famously supposed to have uttered after his recantation (an utterance that, however romantic, is almost certainly a myth): eppur, si muove. And yet, it moves.

The earth in all its heavenly glory around the sun was turning. Around the burning sun, the earth was turning. Now, in ignorant darkness, still I say it turns.