From the Chair of SIO: Dr. Isai Jess Muñoz
"Making Some Noise in the Valley of Dry Bones"
… the bones covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. … Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them…. Then he said … “Come, O breath, from the four winds” … They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.
- Torah. Yechezkel- Ezekiel 37
I greet you encouraged to see and to hear that so many institutions and professional organizations are delineating messages of compassion and hope through this miraculous form of communication we call opera. My welcoming title is inspired by visceral images first found in what scholars believe to be the writings of the Hebrew Ezekiel, who in Jewish, Christian, Islam and Bahai faith is best known as a prophet. It is well accepted that beyond a poetic message responding to a specific period of great crisis of physical suffering and communal identity in Israel’s history, Ezekiel’s vivid narrative of dry bones coming back to life can be read anew in a way that represents those places of separation, brokenness, and even seeming death in ourselves and in our communities that we grieve and yearn to one day see brought back to life. The Noise of the bones of each body coming together is yet another powerful use of metaphor imbedded in Ezekiel’s message that can serve to describe a celebrant’s exultation upon seeing that which has been lost, recovered. In line with the Mission of the Sacred in Opera Initiative that welcomes all faith traditions and testaments of spiritual journeys, this year’s summer issue highlights compositions and production processes that are making some noise in today’s valleys of dry bones seeking rebirth.
Our first feature looks at Fifty Third Street, a relatively new and powerful opera by composer Jody Nagel that addresses homelessness in urban areas. Stage Director Tammie Huntington, takes time to walk us through the score and to express how the show’s original creative team representing Atheists, Evangelical Christians, and people from other faiths, engaged in interfaith work calling them to learn how to value and respect “the other” while maintaining (and often strengthening) their own spiritual identity. Tammy candidly shares how her interaction with the opera prompted her and her husband’s decision to adopt a child through the foster care system.
We also take time to highlight productions in the 2016-2017 season from NOA members around the country that focused on sacred subjects. We applaud The University of Colorado at Boulder that recently workshopped Mark Adamo’s controversial score, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. That Mary Magdala was a repentant prostitute is almost certainly untrue. Adamo’s female-centric narrative offers us a work of art inspired by scholarly research of the Canonical and Gnostic Gospels and other early writings of the church, depicting Mary as a powerful woman at Jesus’ side. David Gockley, General Director of the San Francisco Opera, who commissioned the opera, has expressed that it should not be challenged as “a work of history…or a work of spiritual truth.” Adamo rather, has expressed in other interviews that his process when writing the opera served more as a means to reconcile his own sexuality with his faith, and produced what he considers to be a “factual fantaisia.” In other news, we are pleased to report that earlier this year, The Grace Farms Foundation awarded The University of Delaware Opera Workshop Ensemble a Not-For Profit Space Grant for engaging in projects specific to fulfilling the mission of the Sacred in Opera Initiative of the NOA. Their project invited a broad segment of people into engagement with texts inspired by the Passion myth that served to explore what happens when goodness is challenged and assaulted. In light of all the prejudice, violence, and misunderstanding still facing the world today, 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.
Looking to the future, we hope you are planning to register for the 2018 NOA Convention in New Orleans (January 3-7, 2018). This year’s Sacred in Opera Plenary Session, alongside all other convention events focused on this year’s theme, Opera’s Tradition and Rebirth, will feature outstanding artists and teachers with topics and perspectives aimed to strengthen your work in our field.
Lastly, please take a moment to read through notes on our Editorial Board. The SIO Committee has refined our language on peer reviewed article submissions. We are always interested in hearing from potential contributors, and we have drawn up a few points on why and how our web-based format might just be one of the best high-impact publications to showcase your ideas and projects related to opera in interplay with the ideologies of world religions.
As always, we hope that this newsletter serves to inspire and renew your faith in all that good ol' opera can do in today’s world.
Dr. Isai Jess Muñoz
The Sacred in Opera Initiative of the NOA
Chair and Senior Editor