Galileo Galilei | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Galileo Galilei, Goodman Theatre. This new music-theater work by composer Philip Glass and director Mary Zimmerman (with libretto by Zimmerman, Glass, and Arnold Weinstein) combines the elegant but static formality of Baroque opera with the mellow monotony of a 'luded-out night at a disco (Glass's noodling music seems strongly influenced by Giorgio Moroder). Telling Galileo's story in reverse chronological order, it focuses on the astronomer's disavowal of his assertion that the earth revolves around the sun--a proposition deemed heretical by the Catholic church.

Galileo's decision to recant rather than face torture and execution has been generally regarded as either a wise or cowardly act of self-preservation. The opera puts a more mystical spin on the matter, suggesting Galileo believes that God will vindicate his theory. Also reflecting the work's otherworldly inclination is a strong emphasis on Galileo's love for his dead daughter, Maria Celeste, a nun who welcomes her father to heaven in the evening's final--and by far most interesting--scene. This lovely climax displays Glass, Zimmerman, and Weinstein's love of theatrical spectacle, bringing together Galileo at three stages of his life with his winged daughter as part of a masque produced by Galileo's father (a musician credited with helping invent opera). But such passion is otherwise largely absent from this beautifully designed but rather bland production, which takes a serenely distanced view of its subject--a perspective that will strike some as spiritually elevated and others as complacent and boring.

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