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PDX OPERAbeat | A Company Blog is the blog for all things Portland Opera, featuring a variety of guest contributors who will provide insider's tidbits on all we do to celebrate the beauty and breadth of opera.

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.


Tonight is opening night. I cannot tell you what this show means to me, or to many of us. There isn't really any way to convey the process of discovery that many of us have taken as we have built this show from scratch. Truth be told, although I wrote a whole post on how to like this music, I was very uncertain that I would ever grow to love the show. I wasn't sure I could get behind some aspects of the libretto, and I also wasn't immediately wild about the music.

I was wrong.

The extent to which Mary Zimmerman based her libretto on actual historical transcriptions is amazing to me; it continues to amaze me as I continue to learn about Galileo's life. The tiny details the opera picks out — the birds that the Pope has killed; the reference that Galileo makes to his Dialogue being "a chimera, a dream; nothing more" — they all came out of the history books. Some things are conflated for, I presume, the sake of clarity and simplification, but nearly all of it is absolutely real.

The music is utterly exquisite and lovely. Difficult to put together and difficult to perform, both for the singers and the pit musicians, but beautiful, with nothing wasted. I've had it in my head non-stop for a month now, and truth be told, I haven't minded.

I love that the show will be a surprise to all of you. I feel a certain giddy satisfaction about it. Everybody knows how Butterfly ends; it's easy to find the libretto of La Boheme. We all know Tosca jumps. But this, this is a mystery to you. This is a thing we've built and you get to see it for the first time, ever — all of you. During Wednesday night's dress rehearsal, I began crying in Scene 8 (I always cry in Scene 8) and I cried straight through the end of the opera. It's moving and beautiful, but I was also crying because I was really proud of this thing we've put together. I sincerely hope that each of you who sees it enjoys it as much as I have. That's what all these blog posts have been, really: my fervent attempt at transmitting my love of this production to you.

If I could tell you what I think the crux of the opera is, it's the last of Galileo's singing at the end of Scene 8:
The world was made so perfectly, we only need to look. And when we look, we learn all of God's perfection his deep perfection. Our looking is like love, like praise: praise for this world, this lovely world our God has made.

Please don't forget that our resident historian, Bob Kingston, gives a wonderfully informative talk (and question & anwer session) at each performance, one hour prior to curtain (6:30 PM, or 1 PM on Sunday). He will not present the same information I've presented, so I promise we won't be repeating each other! Bob is the reason I came to love Orphée; I highly highly HIGHLY recommend his talk.

Happy opening, everyone. Eppur, si muove.