l’homme et le ciel: an email exchange

From the press release:
[Adam Scime-composed new chamber opera] l’homme et le ciel has been carefully adapted from an ancient text called The Shephard of Hermas. The opera follows a series of inescapable visions, resulting from what Hermas believes to be merely innocent thoughts. These visions reveal to Hermas the undeniable truth concerning his sexual impulses. l’homme et le ciel … will be performed by some of the most exciting singers in Toronto, including Alex Dobson (baritone) playing Hermas, Larissa Koniuk (soprano) playing Rhoda and Adanya Dunn (soprano) playing The Messenger.

After I’d received the press release, I wrote to Amanda Smith, FAWN’s Artistic Director:

Many thanks, I’ll give it all a read.
One very quick and honest question though: why such a text? What would be its appeal to somebody who’s a woman, a feminist and very secular (like me, and I presume, yourself), who’s certain she’s heard enough from the culture about men’s spiritual journeys?
I’m surprised how often contemporary composers choose ancient or classical texts for their works. The other month, I got an invite to a contemporary Canadian opera about Isis and Osiris. (Not to mention the recent Pyramus and Thisbe, really wonderful and new musically but textually a bit of a road well travelled.)
Very open to persuasion otherwise, but the libretto doesn’t grab at first sight.
All the best,
On the same day, Amanda emailed me back. From her response:
Hi Lydia,
I completely understand your stance and initially shared it when the libretto concept was presented to me. As an agnostic, I decided to be open to it, since there need not be one way to read a text. Upon reading the libretto and sitting with it, it became undeniable to me that this is not a story about a man and his spiritual struggle, but instead about any person’s journey toward self-awareness and self-acceptance. This can be a very troubling task for anyone but especially for someone who has dedicated his or her life to a specific religious teaching.
Sexuality is a highly policed concept, especially within religious confines. As someone raised Catholic, I can certainly speak to the restrictions and guilt placed on my peers and I due to the moralization of sexuality. That said, although our protagonist is navigating himself within his faith, this [opera] is one that most of us can relate to. There are very few people in this world whose self-concept is completely unaffected by social factors. When we disrupt these self-concepts, we have to go through a process of self-discovery all over again – sometimes this is a reluctant process and other times quite thoughtful. In l’homme et le ciel, we watch Hermas’ battling self-denial… Although the [original] parable tells a story of inevitable sin, we will be telling a story of inevitable humanity.

I hope this helps to clarify the production for you. Our goal is truly to make sure the production can speak to all people, regardless of gender or beliefs.
Best regards,
This sounds much better, right? It’s hard to describe concisely a musical work. Sometimes the description won’t do it justice. Thanks go to Amanda for being open to conversation. Here’s a clip with a bit of Scime’s music:
L’homme et le ciel premieres at the Music Gallery on December 3:

4 thoughts on “l’homme et le ciel: an email exchange

  1. “Although the [original] parable tells a story of inevitable sin, we will be telling a story of inevitable humanity.”

    I think that’s the same thing, isn’t it? Absent the condemnation maybe.

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