I've known Claude Vivier's marvellous chamber opera Kopernikus for more than ten years, have seen several productions, have studied the music in detail, have written about it. But what, sacré nom de Dieu, is it actually about? There is something elusive, ungraspable, about this féerie mystique, as Vivier called it (a mystical enchantment). Ostensibly, Kopernikus tells of a woman's journey to the next world. But there is no real narrative as such, and a great many detours and off-ramps, such that an audience could be forgiven for not grasping this central fact. What the work is not about – appearances to the contrary – is the Renaissance astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who barely features in the opera, only appearing at the end to open the gates of heaven. Vivier explained that it was the mythic Copernicus that interested him, ‘the idea of the cosmic searcher’, and that he had made no attempt to research the life and thought of the real Nicolaus Copernicus. The principal character is Agni, the Hindu deity – a male god, but represented here in female form by an alto. Vivier made it clear that he identified strongly with the central character, so much so that we may regard Agni as one of the long list of ‘Vivier characters’ in his work. In a press release at the time of the work's premiere he noted: ‘Agni is the Hindu god of fire ... Fire is my astrological sign. I was born on April 14. I am Aries, the ram. Agni, c'est moi’.
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