Synopsis & Notes


Scene I: Horoscope
On the date he predicted he would die, Gerolamo Cardano reviews his astrological chart.
Scene II: The Birth of Gerolamo Cardano
Many years before, in 1500, Cardano’s mother grapples with grief while pregnant with Cardano.
Scene III: The Knowable Machine
Cardano considers the complexity of the universe and our place within it.
Scene IV: The Cure
Cardano visits Archbishop John Hamilton in Edinburgh, whose physicians are unable to diagnose or treat his illness.
Scene V: The Demise of Chiara
Extremely ill with syphilis, Cardano’s only daughter Chiara faces death.
Scene VI: Stars
A young Chiara joins her father to contemplate the night sky.
Scene VII: The Auriotomy of Aldo Cardano
Cardano’s second son Aldo is in prison and threatened with torture. He has stolen valuable items, including many from his own father’s house.
Scene VIII: Lock of Combinations
The chorus explain the mechanisms of Cardano’s most famous invention, which became the modern combination lock.
Scene IX: The Crime of Giambattista Cardano
Cardano’s eldest son Giambattista poisons his wife’s breakfast before confronting her about her infidelity, a crime for which he will later be executed.
Scene X: Ghosts
As Cardano reflects on the delicate balance between knowledge and wisdom, he is haunted by the ghosts of his children.
Scene XI: Examination
Cardano’s presentation to a medical board goes awry and he is again excluded from the College of Physicians in Milan.
Scene XII: Day of Death
In Cardano’s final moments, he hears the call of angels, who sing his favourite proverb.


In Biographica I’ve focused on capturing an essence of Renaissance music by filtering it through a contemporary lens. There are centuries of musical history in conversation – sometimes easy, sometimes intentionally confused – following the diverse, fascinating character of Cardano himself and his capricious life. As his narrative unfolds, the musical worlds intensify, creating perilous mayhem but also mathematical precision. The composition aims to catch moments in the journey and demise of an eccentric, wondrous soul from the beginnings of our modern age. It’s like a visit to a great portrait gallery, full of different paintings – but all depicting the same person.

-Mary Finsterer 


Mary Finsterer
Mary Finsterer is recognised as one of Australia’s innovative composers. Having received international recognition for her music in Europe, Britain, USA and Canada, Mary has received many awards both nationally and abroad including representing Australia in five International Society for Contemporary Music Festivals, the prestigious Paul Lowin Orchestral Prize and numerous Australian Art Music Awards throughout her career. In 2015 she was the featured composer in the ABC Classic FM Pedestal Programme and has been the celebrated artist for several portrait concerts including ANAM Australian Voices at the Melbourne Recital Centre in 2016 and Ensemble Offspring at the Sydney Opera House in 2012, the latter having subsequently toured her music throughout Australia and China.

Also composing for feature film, Mary worked with Marco Beltrami on the screen music for Hollywood blockbuster Die Hard 4 and in 2011 her score for Shirley Barrett’s feature South Solitary was recognised in the Film Critics Circle Australia Awards. South Solitary has since been released on ABC Classics|Universal. Mary has also been the recipient of many prestigious residencies and fellowships including the Churchill Fellowship in 2006, Australia Council Composer Fellowship, Royal Netherlands Government Award and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra composer-in-residence.

Mary’s first opera Biographica, was premiered by Sydney Chamber Opera and Ensemble Offspring at the Sydney Festival in January 2017 with exceptional success. Having enjoyed a sold-out season, it was enthusiastically received by critics and audiences alike and described as ‘an outstanding new opera that deserves a permanent place in the repertory’. Since 2018 Mary has been the composer-in-residence at the Canberra International Music Festival and has received two Australian Apra|Amcos Art Music Awards: Art Music Award 2018 – Vocal Work of the Year for Biographica and Art Music Award 2019 – Instrumental Work of the Year for the duet, Ignis.

Mary holds several positions at the University of Tasmania including CALE Creative Fellow at the College of Arts, Law and Education, University Associate at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies and is an Adjunct Professor at the Conservatorium of Music, Tasmanian College of the Arts.

Tom Wright
Tom Wright has written for the stage since the early 1990s. He was Associate Director of Sydney Theatre Company 2004–12 and is currently Associate Artist at Belvoir. His plays and adaptations include A Journal of the Plague Year, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Ubu, This Is a True Story, Lorile, Babes in the Wood, Tense Dave, The Odyssey, The Lost Echo, Criminology (with Lally Katz), Tales From the Vienna Woods, The Women of Troy, The War of the Roses, The Duel, Baal, Optimism, Oresteia, On the Misconception of Oedipus, The Histrionic, Black Diggers and Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Janice Muller
Janice Muller is a theatre and opera director based in regional Victoria. She also works as a writer, dramaturg, producer and curator and has devised several site-specific works. Opera credits include two new works: NED composer Luke Styles, librettist Peter Goldsworthy (Perth Festival 2019) and BIOGRAPHICA composer Mary Finsterer, librettist Tom Wright (Sydney Chamber Opera/Sydney Festival 2017)

Recent theatre directing credits include Australian Realness by Zooey Dawson, (Malthouse); Good Muslim Boy,
co-adapted with Osamah Sami (Malthouse, Queensland Theatre), Revolt She Said. Revolt Again by Alice Birch (Malthouse); Lake Disappointment by Luke Mullins and Lachlan Philpott, (5 Sydney theatre award nominations including best new work and best director) (Carriageworks) and The Tribe (co- adapted with Michael Mohammed Ahmad) (‘Bankstown Live’ Urban Theatre Projects/Belvoir/Castlemaine State Festival/The Substation.)
In 2016 she was Director in Residence at Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne. Janice is the recipient of several international scholarships and awards including the 2006 Playwriting Australia & Goethe Institute Dramaturgy Fellowship and an Australia Council stipend to attend the Royal Court International residency in 2001. In 2004 she created an audio work for X-Wohnungen (HAU), Berlin.

Janice is a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts (1998), the University of New South Wales (1996) and the AFTRS radio broadcasting course (1989). She has been on the board of Arena Theatre Company since 2018.

Ensemble Offspring
Ensemble Offspring are champions of adventurous new music. Presenting music from seminal chamber work to free improvisation, alongside the creation of striking interdisciplinary productions, the group embraces open-minded music making in all forms. Based in Sydney, Ensemble Offspring is led by acclaimed percussionist Claire Edwardes and features some of Australia’s most innovative and virtuosic performers. The group has toured Hong Kong, London, Brugge and Warsaw and performs at venues including Carriageworks, Sydney Opera House and even local Sydney bowling clubs. Passionate about nurturing the work of emerging as well as established composers, Ensemble Offspring has premiered over 200 works in its 20-year history.

Image: Lisa Tomasetti

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