At first glance the life of an obscure Jesuit composer would not seem to be the best material from which to mould a riveting opera, but Domenico Zipoli, protagonist of the Imperfect Pearl, is no ordinary composer.
What’s more, in combining baroque music, theatre, and opera in what almost seems to be a classical take on a musical rather than full on opera, the writers and cast of this production have striven to be more than just any ordinary theatre company.
The Imperfect Pearl, or Perola Barroca in Italian, is a semi fictionalised account of the life of Zipoli, a musical genius of whom little is known since he dramatically quite Italy for South America and the religious life, just as he was achieving recognition, and died young of tuberculosis aged just 37.
Writer and star William Towers takes the few known facts and weaves them with a fictionalised love affair, to create a moving and dramatic production which contrasts powerfully the stiff society of 18th century Italy with the passion to be found in the jungles of the new world.
Towers, appearing somewhat like a sober Dylan Moran, brings power to the role of Zipoli, while Eloise Irving is enchanting as his love interest in the first part, but resplendent in penitents white as Zipoli undergoes his religious transformation in the second.
A talented quartet on strings and keyboards interweave period music into the action, from the dazzling yet stately baroque stylings of Zipoli’s early works and those of near contemporary Falconieri, to the more primal but ultimately more religious sounds of South America, which are the beating heart of the second act.
Towers’ script does verge towards the didactic at times, but there is passion and reflection, as well as the humour – a comment on Jesuits failing to stage operas on the lives of obscure composers – and ultimately love, for a woman, for God, and for art.
Zipoli’s journey will possibly never be fully known – a trove of his work was discovered at a Bolivian monastery in the 1970s, ready to be used as toilet paper – but what fragments remain serve as the grit around which Towers, along with creators Heulwen Phillips and Mark Latimer, have created their own beautiful perola barroca.