Gerald Barry was born in Ireland in 1952. After earning bachelor's and master's degrees from University College in Dublin, he studied composition in Cologne with Stockhausen and Kagel. He first came to public attention in 1979 with his radical ensemble works '__________' and "Ø," and he has withdrawn all of his early works composed before Things that Gain by Being Painted (1977).
His first opera The Intelligence Park, commissioned by the ICA, was first performed at the 1990 Almeida Festival, and a second opera, The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit, written for Channel 4 Television and broadcast in 1995, opened the 2002 Aldeburgh Festival, followed by performances in London and the Berliner Festwochen. It receives its North American premiere with this performance, to be followed by performances in Paris and Amsterdam in 2007. (The broadcast performance is also available on a CD on the Largo label.)
In 2005 the stage premiere of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (recorded on RTE) was given at English National Opera and the German language premiere will be given at the Basle Opera in 2008. He is currently working on La Plus Forte (The Stronger), a one-act opera on the Strindberg play commissioned by Radio France for the 2007 Festival Presences.
Quotation and parody are favorite devices of Barry, particularly of material derived from Baroque sources. Handel provides the influence and model for both The Intelligence Park and The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit.
"The dramatic framework of The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit is taken from Handel's The Triumph of Time and Truth," Barry writes. "The work revolves around questions of ageing, vanity, illusion, fear, wit, ecstasy, regret, and yearning. The climax is one of dramatic ambivalence and musical certainty.
"We had in mind a production of extreme spareness, cool and sharp, contradicting the speed of events in the music. This tension would mirror the uncertainties of the drama and truly reflect the ambiguity and anxiety at its core."
The libretto, by Meredith Oakes, is similarly allusive, and includes the poem "What Is Love?" by James Clarence Mangan (1803-1849).
"The text contributes to a multiplicity of impressions not too easily or quickly familiar," Oakes writes. "Conceits and allusions feed the energy of the music. Thefts; formal constraints of rhyme and meter; Handel references: these are elements of chance lessening control and favoring the action of the subconscious. At the same time the writing pursues a certain dreadful reasonableness, confident that it will be subverted."
Act I: Beauty longs for immortality and is offered it by Pleasure. Time and Truth remind Beauty that it is the nature of time to pass and all else is folly. Deceit tells Beauty that flight will conquer time. Pleasure and Time each try to win Beauty by a display of power. Pleasure speaks of the delights of love and the wonders of the world, Time of the desolation and devastation of love. Deceit presses Pleasure's case; Beauty resists and Deceit collapses.
Act II: Beauty believes Deceit destroyed, but Truth exposes his trickery. Truth offers Beauty an objective view but Beauty hesitates. All vie for Beauty. He flees. He is alone with Pleasure and Pleasure sleeps. Time and Truth show Beauty his decay but this image is shattered by Deceit. Time and Truth withdraw and Pleasure wakes.