The Intelligence Park [Opera in three acts; Libretto by Vincent Deane]
Robert Paradies Richard Jackson
D’Esperaudieu Paul Harrhy
Sir Joshua Cramer Stephen Richardson
Jerusha Cramer Angela Tunstall
Serafino Nicholas Clapton
Faranesi Buddug Verona James
BBC Radio 3 recording made live at the Almeida Theatre, London in July 1990
Reviewed by: Josh Meggitt
Reviewed: October 2005
CD No: NMC D122 (2 CDs)
Duration: 1 hour 46 minutes
Gerald Barry is a composer of formidable talent and originality; his powerful style runs through all his work.
“The Intelligence Park”, Barry’s first opera, took him almost a decade to complete; he worked on little else from 1981 to its completion in 1990. This period of prolonged scrutiny resulted in a work of considerable depth and grandeur, where dense orchestration and methodical vocal excursions are married to a convoluted, self-reflexive plot concerning the writing of opera seria in Dublin in 1753.
Centred on the solely ‘reasonable’ character of composer Robert Paradies in a love triangle involving the castrato Serafino and Paradies’s fiancée and source of income (through her magistrate father) Jerusha Cramer, contrasts include histrionic displays of passion countered by more practical concerns like writers’ block. In the process, like the Coen brothers’ masterfully revealing the eponymous Barton Fink, we glimpse, through the character of Paradies, the creative impulses of Barry himself.
If all seems straightforward, it isn’t. Barry has chosen this text due to its vagueness and lack of clarity, and he is attracted by a libretto urged on by its powerful sexual imagery and lack of naturalism. Barry seeks out that “which moves in an unsettling diagonal. As to what The Intelligence Park is about I have no fixed ideas.”
So Barry focuses more upon viewing opera as a collection of sound fragments, either instrumental or vocal, of contrasting sounds and harshly juxtaposed musical phrases. He is adept at producing tough, skewed melodic passages – I found myself humming the opening melody for days, despite its rollicking dissonance. Little in Barry’s music seems to ‘stretch’: notes are stabbed rather than drawn, voices are stacked, thickening rather than contrasting, and passages don’t develop: they collide. There is little sense of counterpoint or smooth transitions. Everything surges forward relentlessly from the first note, picking up and discarding debris on the rush to the finish line.
One could find fault in “The Intelligence Park” for the above reasons, yet the whole moves forward with such vigour that it is hard not to be swept along with it. Barry is amongst the most exciting composers today writing large-scale works, filling them with original patterns and motifs. While there may be little pause for breath in “The Intelligence Park”, it is an endlessly perplexing yet enthralling work.