Holy Ground, a new opera by Damien Geter and Lila Palmer, will have its world premiere as part of the 2022 Glimmerglass Festival. This contemporary reimagination of a biblical story foregrounds feminism and choice. In the broken, patriarchal landscape of the opera, both notions are radical, but the opera’s Mary refuses to buy into the polarised, utilitarian view of the world. Mary’s dialogues with her mother and a messenger angel offer nuanced perspectives on the question of motherhood — the risk and sacrifice, joy and wonder.
The opera opens in the Angel control room, where three archangels are channel surfing human souls. The feed from Earth is varied, with some channels screeching and dissonant, others harmonious. A moment of unusual beauty and loving attention stops them in their tracks. Could this be the Messiah Suitable (MS) woman they have been searching for?
Cherubiel, who has only recently been elevated to the role of Archangel, is nominated to recruit this lovely soul for the task of carrying and bearing God in human form. The other Archangels assure them they have every faith in his ability to succeed, even though the previous 489 MS women approached for the job have declined. On Earth, Mary’s mother, Ann, encourages her daughter on the eve of her betrothal. In this world, a marriage is a business contract, and it is not safe for a woman to be without a husband. Mary struggles against the expectations placed on her, sensing a greater purpose for her life.
When Cherubiel appears to offer Mary the “more” she has prayed for, she experiences a kaleidoscope of emotions: astonishment, confusion, fear, inadequacy. “I cannot be what you ask of me,” she finally tells Cherubiel. Dejected, Cherubiel meets with his colleagues for a drink. They encourage him not to give up. Meanwhile, Mary is tormented by nightmares. Multitudes cry out for help, but there are too many for her to save. When Ann attempts to comfort her, Mary probes Ann’s feelings about motherhood. Ann confesses that she wasn’t ready for “for me to be over, ready for this thing called Mother.” But, she tells Mary, that uncertainty changed. Mary recalls a second nightmare, in which she labored in a wild place as a slithering monster prowled. Ann stays with her until she falls asleep again. Mary’s concern for the world finally outweighs her fear for herself. She goes out into the night, the dystopian landscape of her nightmares. Suddenly, a great gate is before her. She enters and finds herself in a beautiful garden, where she kneels, prays and makes her choice.
As Mary wakes, Cherubiel greets her: “Hail Mary, full of grace.”
Holy Ground premieres July 29 as part of a Double Bill with Kamala Sankaram and Jerre Dye’s Taking Up Serpents. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.
The Messiah can only be born
of a woman
Who chooses to bend all
to the task.
Body, mind and soul.
A woman with the capacity
To nourish beauty,
Embrace, love absolutely,
Hold the power of the cosmos
at her breast.
The Messiah must be wanted
by his mother,
As God must be chosen.
— Holy Ground
2 Thoughts on “Holy Ground”View Comments
I get tired of war horse operas. Thank goodness Glimmerglass is supporting contemporary work. Support living composers and artists! As for Broadway shows… Sigh.