Galileo’s Revolution: Discovering Truth and Challenging Authority

2023-09-20 11:18:00

In Brecht’s work, the piece begins with a small but not insignificant reversal in the sentence structure: it is not the sun that shines brightly into the study in Padua, but “the light of knowledge” that shines out. In literary studies, this rhetorical figure is called a hysteron-proteron, a reversal of the temporal or logical sequence in the sentence structure. The person who overrides the laws of physics in there is Galileo Galilei. He has just proven Copernicus’ theory: that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around. A discovery that completely changed the world and self-image at the time. Little to please the authorities.

Hatch in the floor

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The unthinkable has not yet been thought of, and on the stage of the theater there is a dim semi-darkness everywhere. Galileo Galilei (initially played by Matthias Neukirch) works as a private teacher in the spring of 1609. Even a universal genius is not free from the hardships of wage labor. But it is another knowledge business from which Galileo hopes to gain financial independence and more: from a Dutch explorer he learns about an invention called a telescope, which he further develops and presents to the Collegium Romanum as his own invention. The early 17th century – fortunately for Galileo – did not yet have patents.

Nothing is the same anymore: Scene from Stemann’s “Galilei”: Image: Philip Frowein

Even if Galileo’s invention is only approved by the board of trustees because they assume that it could be an advantage against the enemy in war and that it could be sold as a valuable commodity, the look through the telescope reveals knowledge that… cannot be closed again so quickly: Using the telescope, Galileo discovered phenomena in the sky that prove the Copernican system. At that moment, a hatch in the floor opens on the stage, through which the light shines, around which Galileo and his followers, including his daughter Virginia, gather. The portal is open. The light, ergo: knowledge, breaks through.

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Overnight the universe lost its center. Nothing is as it was. With the realization that shakes people to their foundations, the parquet falls away from the floor, whirring like a glittering starry sky above the heads of Galileo and his contemporaries. But not all people are ready to hear the truth. Galileo’s calculations are particularly a thorn in the side of the Vatican, because where is God in such a world system? The age-old battle between faith and knowledge begins. Another astrologer who made a similar claim ten years ago was Giordano Bruno. He was burned alive. Galileo is also forced to withdraw his findings. The second half of the game begins with him fixing the panels back to the floor with a cordless drill.

Men in women’s roles and vice versa

In this evening directed by Nicolas Stemann, Galileo is played by different actors, and in fact almost everyone changes roles in this play. Men often play female roles and vice versa. The epic piece consists of 15 scenes, the titles of which are displayed in the background of the stage. On the left edge of the stage, Andrina Bollinger sings in a tender voice the descriptions of the scenes that interrupt Galileo’s story every time. All of this, the role changes, the choral speaking, the sung scene prologues, contribute to the Brechtian alienation effect, which is intended to keep the illusionary nature of the theater present to us and warn us not to believe everything that happens on stage.

When the plague breaks out, Galileo stays behind in Rome and stoically endures his calculations. While still a prisoner of the Inquisition, he wrote his “Discorsi,” a book about mechanics and the laws of falling, in a country house in Florence. Brecht’s play ends with his writings crossing the Italian border in the hands of his student Andrea in 1637. The truth, it is there, and yet Andrea ends the piece with the words: “We are really only at the beginning.”

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Similar to his protagonist, Brecht also wrote “The Life of Galileo” from exile in 1939. When the piece premiered in Zurich on September 9, 1943, he was already in America after his first stay in exile in Denmark. Brecht was concerned with the intellectual oppression under National Socialism. He rewrote the piece twice: from 1944 to 1947 he emphasized the responsibility of science against the background of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In a third version, which he wrote in Berlin in 1955/56 shortly before his death, he undid numerous deletions and once again approximated the original version.

Irene Bazinger Published/Updated: , Recommendations: 11 Simon Strauss Published/Updated: , Recommendations: 4 Julia Encke Published/Updated: , Recommendations: 6

At the beginning and at the end of Stemann’s production there are doubts where there was once certainty. What do we do with the knowledge we have of the world? With the facts and figures about the consequences of our tireless economic pursuits, about climate change, about nuclear dangers, about deadly waves of infections? The director’s references to our time do not always achieve the necessary explosiveness. Every now and then your thoughts wander or you glance at the clock during the three-hour performance. Nevertheless, this production definitely offers a wake-up call to take responsibility for our thinking.


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