In May 2017, a new production of the stage version of Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary premieres in Paris, at the Odéon, with a score composed by performer and composer, Professor Mel Mercier, Chair of Performing Arts at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance. In 2013, Professor Mercier composed the score and created the sound design for the original Broadway production of The Testament of Mary, which was directed by Deborah Warner and performed by Fiona Shaw. Professor Mercier’s sound design for the production won him the prestigious New York Drama Desk Award and a nomination for a Tony Award. The Testament of Mary was subsequently restaged at the Barbican, London in May 2014. In Paris, in an historic co-production by two of the French national theatres, La Comédie-Française and the Odéon Theatre de l’Europe, the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is played by celebrated French actress, Dominique Blanc, in a new French translation.
Professor Mercier’s score for the production has been acclaimed by theatre critics in the international press. In his review of the play, David Rooney, theatre critic at the Hollywood Reporter, writes: “the most indispensable contributions come from sound designer Mel Mercier, whose brooding ambient underscoring echoes the weight of the words being spoken.” The Los Angeles Times theatre critic Charles McNulty writes: “Mel Mercier's original music and sound design establish… the eerie atmosphere of a religious thriller … to create stunning tableau effects.” Elsewhere, Fintan O’Toole (Irish Times) writes “Mel Mercier’s richly eerie music fills the atmosphere”, Jeremy Gerard (Bloomberg) describes Mercier’s score as a “brutal soundscape”, and Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly) calls it a “haunting musical sound design”.
Professor Mercier uses a broad range of musical instruments, representing diverse European and Middle Eastern music cultures, to create the palate of sounds that compose the score for Testament of Mary at the Odéon. An ensemble of leading Irish and international musicians contributed to the acousmatic score through recordings on instruments including the Persian ney, Finnish kanetele, Turkish oud and a range of Middle eastern percussion. These sonorities, interwoven with the more familiar sounds of the saxophone, cello and voice, create a dramatic soundscape that heightens the texture and atmosphere of the play, underscoring and amplifying the musicality of Colm Toibin’s text. In Le Testament a Marie at the Odéon, Mercier’s soundscape and Dominique Blanc’s voice share a sonic landscape. Mercier’s score lifts up, holds and caresses Toibin’s language, exploring the emotional and imaginary dimensions of the text, and propelling and colouring Mary’s story and the play’s narrative of miracles and crucifixion.