An opera inspired by the life and death of persecuted gay code-breaker Alan Turing will have its world premiere in Vancouver this month.
Posthumously known for his role in unravelling the German Enigma codes during World War Two, Turing was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency due to his homosexuality.
Sentenced to chemical castration using female hormones, he committed suicide two years later.
The British mathematician’s poignant story has been interpreted by Vancouver composer Barry Truax in Enigma: The Life and Death of Alan Turing.
Truax, a professor at Simon Fraser University, is internationally regarded as a groundbreaking electro-acoustic artist.
The opera allowed Truax to explore his long-term interest in Turing, who is now recognized as a computer science pioneer.
The premiere will showcase the opera’s opening and closing acts, featuring eight-channel surround sound, music, lighting, singers and dancer Josh Beamish.
“As a precocious teenager, Turing develops an infatuation with his friend Christopher Morcom, who tragically dies of tuberculosis,” Truax says of the opening scene.
“To make it more symbolic, Christopher is portrayed by a dancer rather than a singer, to represent Alan’s idealization of Christopher and the incredible loss of someone he described as ‘brilliant colour bursting upon a black-and-white world.’”
The final scene is the aftermath of Turing’s “principled and perhaps naive” admission of a sexual relationship with a Manchester teenager, during an investigation into a robbery at his house.
“So instead of being a robbery victim, Turing is put on trial for seducing a youth — a youth from the lower classes,” Truax adds.
The mathematician opted for chemical castration instead of a prison sentence and killed himself two years later.
Enigma’s conclusion features words from 17th-century poet Katherine Philips, while the opening scene draws on Tennyson’s “In Memoriam AHH.”
Vancouver New Music commissioned the initial two parts. Truax now hopes to attract interest in producing the middle scenes, ideally in time for the centenary of Turing’s birth in 2012.
In a statement last year, then British prime minister Gordon Brown said of Turing: “Without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could well have been very different. On behalf of the British Government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work, I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.”
Enigma’s launch will feature a retrospective concert of Truax’s 40-year career, including the Vancouver premiere of another homoerotic work, Androgyne, Mon Amour.