The inspiration for the creation of the Faces of Mercy and its performances in Sydney and Rome was a key sentence in the homily by Pope Francis after his selection as Pope.
"The message of Jesus is mercy. For me, and I say this with humility, it is the Lord's strongest message." This year of 2016 became the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy that has just drawn to a close. At the time of the announcement by the Pope, the Australian Ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy, decided it was an opportunity to make an historic contribution:
I was struck by the fact that jubilee years have been occasions in the history of the Church and the Holy See where major works of art are commissioned and completed. Why not a composite of music, art and poetry?
Whether the outcome is a triptych artistic composition, a cantata or an opera, it is an outstanding integration of the three elements of the highest form of musical artistry, musical composition, poetry (or libretto) and imagery (or scenography).
These three elements bring Italy and Australia together through the lives of the contributors. John McCarthy as the then Ambassador, brought three artists into the ‘room’. George Palmer, a compatriot of John’s during their time at the bar, (George was a Supreme Court Judge), is a highly regarded composer of religious and operatic music in Australia. Kevin Brophy, Australian poet has resided in Italy and studied the teachings of St Francis.
Principessa Nike Arrighi Borghese is a celebrated artist whose life has blended childhood and education in Australia followed by a career in theatre in UK, France and Italy and then a life filled by artistic creation and care of the Borghese family palace in Artena, south of Rome. To meld the works of these artists into a wonderful performance, Michael Campbell was invited to direct and produce the performance.
The premier was held in the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney in October and the core team transported the performance to Domus Australia for the performance in the chapel of St Peter Chanel on 17 November. For those of us who witnessed both performances, there was a great juxtaposition of style arising from the chapels, each having been renovated relatively recently and of being of similar proportions and light, suited to about 150 guests.
In addition, the quality of the two choirs, that of St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney and the Ensemble Labirynthus Vocum of the Vatican were mirror images of choral excellence. The orchestras sensed the mood of the composition and reflected this in their sensitive interpretation. In Rome, Kevin Brophy recited his poetry and that of Pope Francesco with clarity and feeling. The other highlight of the performance was the glorious voice of Amelia Farrugia, maybe even better in Rome.
The work follows the triptych painting by Nike Borghese that portrays the horror of desperate displaced persons and environmental destruction in the two outer panels, coming to the joy of mercy in the central panel with the light of heaven shining on St Peter’s and Pope Francis welcoming the saved.
This has been a fine contribution to the end of the Year of Mercy and we wonder whether more people will be able to experience this work performed live subsequent to the Year of Mercy. In the meantime, we have the recording made at the premier in Sydney, and out memories of the evening performance and celebrations in the Vatican, Domus Australia.