Born in 1571, Johannes Kepler is still one of the most admired astronomers who ever lived. He came from an ordinary family, but became a major figure in the scientific revolution, who defended Copernicus’ idea that the sun was at the centre of the universe, and defined three laws of planetary motion.
Less well-known is the fact that in 1615, at the height of his powers, he abandoned his research to defend his elderly mother, Katharina, from charges of witchcraft. This took place at the height of Europe’s infamous “witch-craze”, during which thousands of people - mostly women - were executed for supposed dealings in the occult, and families were torn apart in a climate of paranoia and distrust.
Now, the remarkable tale of Katharina’s six-year ordeal, and her son’s dogged, and ultimately successful, defence, is being brought to the stage in operatic form. Kepler’s Trial has been developed over the past year by a team of artists and researchers, and will receive its premiere on October 28 and 29 as part of the University of Cambridge’s annual Festival Of Ideas.
The opera project was conceived by Professor Ulinka Rublack, a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, whose acclaimed book, The Astronomer And The Witch, is the first to provide a full account of the case.