When I was young, I tried different ways of expressing my stories until I found novels were the most efficient communication vehicle for them. During that process, Music showed its ways and charms. So, I learned some music theory, then became an autodidact and finally, because writing and, especially, Law fulfilled my agenda, in the last decade singing would be the second hobby to keep. Under these circumstances, last January I met Nuno Costa, a young Portuguese composer, who challenged me to write a Libretto for a contemporary opera. After an intense work under a tight schedule of five days, we sent our project to La Biennale di Venezia, the greatest art exhibition in the world founded in 1895, and we were selected to debut our La Meccanica del Colore next October. It is the very first Portuguese project to be selected by the Music Department– the first in 63 editions of the International Festival of Contemporary Music happening during La Biennale. After developing 5 fresh and primitive ideas, I picked one and wrote integrally in Portuguese; but since everyone agrees, Italian is the best language for singing it was adapted to Dante´s language. And I am excited with the result!
There is a very narrow connection between my hobbies which influenced this opera. So obviously the plot might have this fair unconscious relation with my literature preferences. My four published books are historical-fantasy novels, though some years ago I was invited to write a sci-fi short story, which was published on Antologia Fantasporto (Leya, 2012). I convinced myself it would be a unique incursion to sci-fi… until this Libretto, whose creation process demanded a full commitment experienced out of my comfort zone. And that is why at the centre of the stage we find artificial intelligence.
The narrative is all about the contradiction between the allure of Men before Technology and the fierce desire of, through the machines, accurately reproduce or even go beyond the human condition. There is an old man who created a robot that paints landscapes. The ridiculous and the grotesque gather around the continuous dissatisfaction which is experienced when seeking perfection. The protagonist’s frustration leads to the reflexion about the catalysis of Art, until, without warning, the characters’ roles drastically change, according to their adaptation to the action on stage. No surprise: I was rambling on about the constant conflict between the human identity’s discredit and the human will of supremacy.
La Biennale organization’s interpretation of my work pointed out influences of classical opera that I was genuinely not aware and, also, was told that my narrative tone reminds Verdi. Oh! I was overwhelmed! Plus, some scenes have reminiscences of classical fantasy movements. I must accept it, since I sing symphonic music and adore classical operas.
Ultimately, the story happens in something like a post-apocalyptical scenario, where an old man can create a robot that paints and, at the end, even speaks. The purpose of the robot is to paint the landscapes the creator can no longer see by himself. And the machine evolves. It learns through humans’ reactions. It tries to assume feelings. The human characters desire to be overtaken by its skills… or don’t they? Do they desire to hold the control over the machines or is there some kind of comfort in letting them take over?
I guess you
can enumerate dozens of sci-fi books and films which embrace this never-ending
struggle… I hope this approach is an interesting and somehow refreshed
contribution to speculative fiction which, somehow, is gathering a new interest
among the general public. I mean, so far almost exclusively in what concerns
cinema. However, it is important to ask if, in the meantime and against the
odds, are not some stakeholders of the Arts giving new positive signals towards
sci-fi, since Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian is
sponsoring La Meccanica del Colore?…
 Created from Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian’s legacy in 1956, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian is the most relevant Portuguese foundation with the philanthropic purpose of enlarging knowledge and improving life standards through arts, science, education, health and human development. It also has branches in London and Paris.
By Madalena Santos
Madalena Nogueira dos Santos, born in 1987 in Maia, is a Lawyer and holds a post-graduate degree in Real Estate and Urban Planning Law. Against the idea that Law turns the world grey and restricted, Madalena published four historical-fantasy novels – O Décimo Terceiro Poder (2006), A Coroa de Sangue (2007), As Tribos do Sul (2009) and Os Doze Reinos (2010), all by ASA-Leya and signing as Madalena Santos – and a sci-fi short story in an anthology (Antologia Fantasporto, 2012). Some of her poetry was also published. At the same time, she sings in Ensemble Vocal Pro Musica, especially dedicated to symphonic music, so it was a natural step to write a libretto for an opera, which was selected by Biennale di Venezia, being the first portuguese to premiere in Venice during the International Festival of Contemporary Music… and the plot is obviously an exercice of a science-fiction dilemma. She is the founder and director of Nogueira e Silva Escura’s public library, guest in literary events and jury of several fiction awards. Recently, she acts as a project manager at Editorial Divergência, a publishing company specialized in speculative fiction. Even though lately she is investing on promotion of reading and writing, the lack of free time is not enough to make her give up from the next writing project.