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In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

BLO'S VERSION OF THE LOVE POTION

Nov 13, 2014 11:40:00 AM
By BLO Staff

By Magda Romanska, Ph.D., BLO Dramaturg
Thalia, muse of comedy, holding a comic mask.
Detail from the “Muses Sarcophagus,”
first half of the 2nd century AD
One of the most prominent characteristics of The Love Potion is the opera’s structure: twelve singers tell the story, which is constantly flowing, while supported by haunting and almost hypnotic music. That type of dramatic structure closely follows the tradition of the Greek Chorus, in which the plot is driven by chorus members who assume different dramatic roles, while also providing background and commentary on the action of the story. Called a “sacred oratorio,” The Love Potion also alludes to the religious origins of the Greek Chorus and its format: at its beginnings, theatre was a sacred ritual performed to honor the gods, and it evolved into a dialogic format only when the first actor, Thespis, stepped out and engaged his fellow chorus member in direct dialogue. All of these elements combine to create a work that crosses the boundary between secular and sacred, while providing commentary on its subject matter: eternal love as a spiritual journey that doesn’t end with death, but continues throughout the otherworldly dimension.
The Marriage of Tristram and
Isoude Les Blanches Mains,
Sir Edward Burne-Jones,
stained glass window, 1862

Regardless of one’s religious orientation, anyone who has lost a loved one knows the spiritual feeling of longing and loss… But the mythology of eternal love that is also an erotic love is a complicated matter: love that has no bounds (not even death) is fundamentally self-destructive, but it is also, as poets have always claimed, a spiritual experience. The cult of such love has something that is both mythical and mysterious, but also seductive and dangerous. To lose oneself in such love can be at once the most engrossing and the most destructive experience of one’s life.

By staging The Love Potion at the Temple Ohabei Shalom, we tried to capture that grand, overwhelming, spiritual feeling evoked by boundless love that the opera explores. The spatial grandeur of the Temple, with its magnificent golden dome, is a fitting setting for Frank Martin’s music, illustrating and illuminating both the grandeur of the music and the complexity of the myth that the opera explores. Finally, it is also perhaps a fitting setting for another reason: one of Judaism’s most celebrated texts is Song of Songs, also known as Song of Solomon, which celebrates sensual love as the highest expression, culmination, and extension of a deeply spiritual experience.

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