Author: Jill Kimball

CU NOW workshops Mark Adamo’s ‘Gospel of Mary Magdalene’

Adamo’s intimate opera retells the Biblical story through a woman’s eyes

This summer, Eklund Opera’s trailblazing new works program—CU New Opera Workshop, or CU NOW—pulls out all the proverbial stops in its latest quest to bring cutting-edge opera to CU Boulder. Two performances of a reworked opera by Mark Adamo, “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” come to the Music Theatre stage June 16 and 18; both nights are free and open to the public.

The weekend also includes the Composer Fellows’ Initiative, a free, public performance of brand new opera scenes written by CU Boulder composition students, on June 17.

“The Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” which reimagines the story of Jesus through the eyes of Christianity’s most intriguing female character, had its high-profile and controversial premiere at San Francisco Opera in 2013.

Adamo says that in retrospect, the story was a bit too intimate for the “Gibraltar-sized” San Francisco stage. His revised composition cuts the cast size from 73 to 16 and scraps the three-story set in favor of something that allows for more interaction between singers.

“At the premiere, the look of the show was so traditional,” he says, “I realized the tone of the show should really be more witty and modern, a lot closer to ‘Godspell.’ At its heart, it’s not an epic. It’s a moving family drama.”

In the opening scene of the libretto, which Adamo wrote himself, a handful of modern-day Christian students wonder how to reject the Bible’s negativity toward women and sexuality without throwing the whole book in the fire. The scene reflects Adamo’s own complicated relationship with the Catholic Church.

“My mother was divorced and was effectively excommunicated at church,” he says. “And then I came out as gay. I knew what it was to have this real conflict between the sexuality you felt and the sexuality your religion tells you is the only good one.”

The rest of the libretto, based on scholarly research of the Gnostic Gospels and other historic texts, suggests major Biblical figures weren’t immune to feeling as conflicted as Adamo felt growing up. According to Adamo, these ancient gospels hint that Jesus may have been born out of wedlock rather than from the womb of a virgin; that Mary Magdalene might have been an apostle who sparred with Peter; and that she and Jesus were potentially romantically involved.

“I was reading about this and thinking, ‘Boy, this is a story,’” Adamo says. “This isn’t the dry Jesus we know, and it isn’t all miracles and myths. It’s a romance with tense relationships where no one is perfect. They’re just doing the best they can. It’s so relatable.”

Adamo says he was especially interested in telling the story from a woman’s point of view because, in Christianity, the burden of sexuality falls heavily on women. Jesus’s mother, a pure virgin, is revered; Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, is reviled; and there’s not much in between. Even after 2,000 years of societal progress, some women still feel the weight of that burden.

“I thought women my mother’s age would struggle the most with this opera,” Adamo says. “But they were the ones who came up to me after the premiere and said, ‘I was so moved I couldn’t leave the theatre for 10 minutes. Thank you for putting my life on stage.’”


Showtimes for “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene”

Friday, June 16, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, June 18, 2017, 2 p.m.
Free & open to the public | Music Theatre, Imig Music Building
Warning: This opera contains mature content and is not recommended for children.

Student Composer Concert

Saturday, June 17, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Free & open to the public | ATLAS Black Box Experimental Studio