Opera Scotland

Breathe Freely

Music

Julian Wagstaff (born Edinburgh 1970).

Text

The Composer.

 

Premiere

First Performance: Edinburgh (Assembly Room), 24 October 2013.

 

Background

Julian Wagstaff, Scottish composer of The Turing Test, first seen in 2007, was commissioned to write this opera to celebrrate the 300th anniversary of the establishment of the School of Chemistry at Edinburgh University. It is economically composed for a cast of three singers, accompanied by a chamber ensemble of clarinet, cello and piano.

 

Characters

Prof. James Kendall, Head of the Dept of Chemistry (baritone)

Lieut. Dr Stanislaw Hempel, a Polish chemist (tenor)

Dr Chrissie Miller, Senior Lecturer in Chemistry (mezzo-soprano)

 

Plot Summary

In 1943, during the Second World War, Professor Kendall, working in Edinburgh, is attached to the Special Operations Executive (SOE). He is an expert in gas warfare. A Polish chemist, Stanislaw Hempel, arrives. Having escaped from Poland, where the Nazis are systematically eliminating the old scientific community, He is serving with the Polish forces in Britain. They agree that the war effort must take priority for the time being. Dr Miller joins them, and explains the difficulties she encounters over shortage of supply. Her work is centred on the detection of minute quantities of poison gas. Hempel joins a small team of scientists working on the creation of a new gas to be available to retaliate with if the Germans start using gas as an offensive weapon.

Two years later, Hempel is still at work on the project. He reminisces about his years as a political activist in Poland, when he had been involved in the assassination of one of the Russian occupiers. Dr Miller is shocked that he could have done such a thing. Her work is purely defensive, but Hempel argues that there is not really such a thing. Kendall arrives for a progress report - elements of government are worried that the final desperate acts of a collapsing Nazi regime might include the use of gas. They hear cheers outside, and switch on the radio. News has come that Germany has surrendered unconditionally. The three start to make plans for enjoying the peace, but Kendall assures Hempel that, even with his research no longer having a practical application, scientific knowledge is never wasted.

The Cast

Dr Christina Miller
 Senior Lecturer in Chemistry, a leading chemical researcher
Lieut Dr Stanislaw Hempel
 a Polish chemist and military officer
Professor James Kendall
 Head of the Department of Chemistry, an expert on gas warfare

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