A series of opera works exploring virtue among prisoners.

The Virtues is a contemporary opera project that reimagines virtue through the eyes of current incarcerated people. It consists of seven discreet audio visual projects created in collaboration with prisons around the world, between 2013 and 2053.  Using opera, street knowledge and video, a series of live performances and video works will be produced for audiences inside and outside the prison walls. 

The first in the series, JUDITH’S RETURN, is set in Poland and explores the virtue of courage. It takes it’s title from the Raine Maria Rilke poem of the same name, whose text serves as the libretto for the accompanying operatic work. The work combines the voices of currently incarcerated men with panoramic 3 screen video and a wild new-neo-romantic opera for church organ, synthesizer, soprano and drums. The music was composed and recorded by Brennan and Pospieszalski in Gidle church, a small and highly regarded pilgrimage site in Southern Poland, and sung by soprano Lia Ikkos-Serrano (UK).

Shot on location in some of Poland’s most mysterious corners, the work has been created in partnership with Białołęka Prison, Warsaw, one of Europes largest detention centres. Working with a Polish translator and sound recordist, Brennan ran a six week program in the prisons gymnasium with nine men currently imprisoned at Białołęka. The prisoners were invited to contribute as experts and discuss their own ideas on crime and virtue. From these unrehearsed conversations that drew on personal experiences, Polish history and the moral codes of the street, a moving and philosophical narrative voice emerges that carries the 40 minute video work on a wild ride of the imagination, conveyed from the prisoners point of view.

 

Inspired by the imaginative world of incarcerated people, The Virtues uses contemporary video techniques as a platform for extending viewers perception of liberty and meaning. The spatial and conceptual limitations of a prison cell are foundational to the works aesthetic and methodology. Ongoing development of the material seeks out ways to present operatic and video work in a way that reflects the sensory experience of incarcerated persons in the act of perceiving the outside world from within the prison. This is achieved using a unique multi screen projection format devised by Brennan in Poland 2014, and multi channel audio in an immersive panoramic audio visual experience.

From the highest mountain peak to the grimiest bombed out warehouses of the holy city of Czestochowa, through drug-fuelled parties and empty castles, the video flies with a third-eye view through the iconic and hidden landscapes of the prisoners’ country, placing their visions and voices in the ‘world outside’ the walls of the prison. These intimate ethnographic records inhabit the spaces the prisoners have left behind once again in defiance and yearning.

 

 

In 2019 the work will be presented within Białołęka Prison, Warsaw to the men whose voices narrate the video. It will be projected onto the walls around them, immersing them in the landscapes of their homeland. The Australian premiere of the work will be presented at Bendigo Festival of Exploratory Music in September 2018.

 

Link to audio fragments from recordings at Gidle Church, Poland