The Sacred in Opera Initiative takes time to make noise and to celebrate all those in our field who are taking courageous steps forward to foster hope and reconciliation through their artistry.
The Arts Initiative at the Grace Farms Foundation and the Sacred in Opera Initiative came together this past April to present contemporary interpretations of mystical Baroque vocal masterpieces by Neapolitan composer, Francesco Provenzale.
Opera can be a powerful medium, introducing the audience to incredible stories and characters that can reach deep into souls and change lives. Music is a meeting place that goes beyond the spoken word. The sacred in opera may, at times, be found in the most unsuspecting places, and may lead us into enriching experiences we would not have previously conceived. Jody Nagel, composer, is a self-professed Atheist who uses several Biblical references in his opera, Fifty-Third Street. Tammie Huntington, the author, is an evangelical Christian who was drawn to the music and message of the opera and chose to produce and direct the premiere as her dissertation project for the Doctor of Arts degree at Ball State University. Both agree that truth is truth. Through the production process, the composer and director found a common passion that superseded their philosophical differences and forged a friendship that continues to enrich each of their lives, both personally and professionally.
When a musical work is premiered, that doesn't mean its evolution is halted or that the version heard and seen by the audience will automatically be the definitive one, frozen forever in the published score. Some classical composers, like Gustav Mahler, were notorious for revising their scores after public performances. Sometimes, the realization on stage or in the concert hall does not always match the vision the creator had in mind. Such is the case with "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene," the third opera by Mark Adamo.
By John Pfautz
On behalf of the Sacred in Opera Committee for the National Opera Association, I am delighted to share on the success pertaining to this past year’s SIO Plenary Session at the NOA Convention in Indianapolis. Dr. Isai Jess Muñoz, from the faculty of the University of Delaware, coordinated the performance, which showcased excerpts from a new Sacred Opera, Hagar, by recent winner of the Charles Ives Composition Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters, William David Cooper, commissioned by Second Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis. The performance was followed by a panel discussion with the production team discussing the commissioning and producing of Hagar, as an example of new operas successfully being funded and presented today by sacred spaces. The composer, stage director, producer, conductor/commissioner, and performers had much to share about how this production came to fruition owing much to the vision and support of numerous individuals and churches.
For close to a decade the Sacred in Opera Initiative has provided the NOA community with a thoughtful newsletter and convention sessions that serve to disseminate information on past and present productions, research, pedagogy, and other happenings related to the interplay between opera and the ideals of world religions. We owe much of the SIO Initiative’s indelible success to its leaders such as former NOA President John Pfautz, Kurt-Alexander Zeller, Ruth Dobson, Carl Gerbrandt and many others. This edition marks the beginning of a new editorial team charged with the difficult task of filling their shoes. I am indebted to the NOA Board for entrusting me with the honor of serving as chair and senior editor of this significant initiative. I look forward to partnering with many of you, and to hear all your ideas and suggestions that might continue to support our mission.
In honor of the publication of "Laudato Si," Pope Francis' recent encyclical about the environment, The Sacred Music in a Sacred Space Concert Series of St. Ignatius Loyola and The New York Opera Society (NYOS) have commissioned a new chamber opera from renowned Norwegian composer Gisle Kverndokk and librettist Aksel-Otto Bull based on the writings of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Inspired by and featuring Teilhard’s “Mass on the World,” Kverndokk’s opera tells the stories of people whose lives have been irrevocably altered by environmental catastrophes: Chernobyl, the tsunamis, pollution and climate change. The work offers a hopeful, empowering meditation on the way forward from the human and environmental toll of these events.
This coming January at the NOA Convention in Santa Barbara, THE SACRED IN OPERA INITIATIVE of NOA will discuss and present excerpts from composer Andrew Barnes Jamieson’s avant-gospel chamber opera, Heaven Down Here, which explores contemporary racial and religious conflict through the lens of the Jonestown Massacre. In 1977 Over 1000 members, led by Pastor Jim Jones, left their San Francisco headquarters The People’s Temple, for Jonestown, Guyana where most would later die in a massacre orchestrated by their leader—the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act prior to the events of September 11, 2001. Jamieson and his creative team will discuss the philosophy behind his recent opera. The composer will also explain the full experience of the work’s production process which seeks to explore the use of African American Pentecostal Hymnody and Spirituals infused with experimental harmonies and improvisation, to mirror the radical and provocative theology that the congregants of People’s Temple hoped to embody.