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Chamber Opera
Libretto by Tom Wright
Edition: Performance material

Product Details


Inspired by the principles of Renaissance music, and conceived for one actor, five singers and eleven musicians, Biographica is a chamber opera about the extraordinary life and demise of Gerolamo Cardano.

Gerolamo Cardano was a prolific inventor, a flawed father, a solitary, aggressive and peculiar soul with a magnificent and eccentric Renaissance mind: a human who listened to guardian angels, swore by science, and dreamt of defeating time. He wrote the first texts on the mathematics of gambling and cheating, was a world-renowned surgeon, invented algebra, and was the pioneer of sign language.

The opera takes the form of a sequence of portraits, much like Counter-Maniera painting; rich, florid, bold, Greenaway meets Caravaggio. The portraits are sung episodes, combining principle characters singing in English and choruses singing in Latin, focusing on moments of transformation, elation and tragedy within Cardano’s life: the events surrounding his birth (his mother’s attempt to abort him), the rise and fall of his three children (his eldest son’s crimes and beheading, his daughter’s prostitution and syphilis) and the moments of original thought and invention that garnered him with temporary fame and celebrity (saving the life of the archbishop and the day he correctly predicted the date and time of his own death).

The portraits are presented not in a linear fashion, but in a manner that expresses a mind reflecting upon the events of one’s life that haunt and propel one forward.

Between each portrait are Beckett-like monologues to be spoken by Cardano. Addressed directly to the audience (accompanied by music), they are the lessons and aphorisms written by Cardano where he aims to share wisdom and secure his place in history. His writings range from the insightful to the outright bizarre, capturing a moment in history where the world was taking a terrifying leap forward in thought and complexity. His writings reveal to us a soul deeply human and magnificent in imagination.

The libretto and the interlocking musical events in the opera capture the experience of a febrile moment in time; a time in our history when the world of fact and the world of the soul were intermeshed, when science meant leaps of faith, and leaps of faith held great terrors for the soul.

Mary Finsterer und Tom Wright 

Orchestral Cast

1 (auch Picc. und Altfl.) · 0 · 1 (auch Bassklar.) · Sopransax. (auch Baritonsax.) · 0 - S. (Glsp. · Crot. · Vibr. · Marimba · Plattengl. · Röhrengl. · Gongs · 2 Beck. [m./t.] · Tamt. · kl. Tr. · 3 Tomt. [h./m./t.] · gr. Tr. · Amboss) (2 Spieler, teilweise zusätzlich vom Chor gespielt) - Hfe. · Klav. (auch Cel.) - Str. (Va. sola auch Viola d'amore)


I Horoscope - II The Birth -  III The Knowable Machine - IV The Cure (of Archibishop Hamilton) - V The Demise of  Chiara - VI Stars - VII The Auriotomy (of Aldo Cardano) - VIII Lock of Combinations
IX The Crime (of Giambattista Cardano)
X Ghosts - XI Examination - XII The Day of Death



Cardano's mother, doctor, examiner · soprano 1 (also chorus) - Chiara (Cardano's daughter), doctor, examiner · soprano 2 (also chorus) - Caterina (Giambattista's wife), doctor, examiner · mezzo-soprano (also chorus) - Aldo (Cardano's youngest son), Cassante (physician), examiner · tenor (also chorus) - Giambattista (Cardano's oldest son), Archbishop, examiner · baritone (also chorus) - Cardano · actor

More Information

Chamber Opera
Libretto by Tom Wright
Performance material
Schott Music
Publishing year:
Year of composition:
World Premiere:
January 7, 2017 · Sydney, NSW (AUS)
Sydney Festival
Ensemble Offspring · Conductor: Jack Symonds
Original staging: Janice Muller · Costumes: Charles Davis · Set design: Charles Davis
Organizer: Sydney Chamber Opera
Commissioned work :
Generously commissioned by Julian Burnside AO QC, Maureen Wheeler AO, Jane Mathews, Nelson Meers Foundation, Rob & Paula McLean, Sherry & Tom Gregory, Richard Rufus, Fr John O’Neill, Charles Davidson, Arts ACT, The Australia Council for the Arts

Technical Details

Product number:
LS 6230-1
Delivery rights:


Set Ascending Direction
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    Conductor: Patrick Burns
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  • Biographica
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  • Biographica
    Conductor: Patrick Burns
    September 21, 2023 | Melbourne, VIC (Australia) , Theatre Works — First Night
  • Set Ascending Direction


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