I began work on “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene” in 2007: the opera was commissioned and announced by San Francisco Opera in 2009, and the company gave its widely publicized première in June 2013. Based on the Canonical Gospels, the Gnostic Gospels, and nearly a century of biblical scholarship, the opera reimagined the New Testament through the eyes of the legend’s most substantial female character. I was grateful for the extraordinary work of the director Michael Christie, the director Kevin Newbury, and a sterling company led by Sasha Cooke, Nathan Gunn, William Burden, and Maria Kanyova: and the company supported their every effort brilliantly. As expected, not every commenter relished (or even understood) the challenge of the project, but among the generous notices, I was most grateful for Joshua Kosman’s
in the San Francisco Chronicle;
his description most closely matches the piece I tried to make. Pamela Feinsilber
for The Huffington Post
, Chloe Velter
for Arts Journal, Jeffrey S. McMillan
and Beth Spotswood
for CBS were comparably supportive; writers such as William Burnett
, writing multiple features, went into extraordinary depth. And the author and annotator Thomas May wrote as eloquent an introduction
to the world of the piece as one could wish.
Magniloquent as the original production was—I don’t expect to engage seventy-three singers for anything I will ever write again—I was intrigued by what might happen if the opera’s chorus and ensemble of modern Seekers were combined into a single ensemble of twelve; and if the piece was reset to here and now, better reflecting the idea that rethinking this ancient story is, at root, a modern need. Leigh Holman, leader of the splendid summer program Colorado University New Opera Workshop (known by the best acronym in modern art: CU-NOW) offered me her artists and theatre; and in the summer of 2017 I directed just such a version, which seemed so right that I committed to permanently revising the score. That version is in process, and I am planning to have it ready for performance in 2021.