REV. 23, Following Charles Through Heaven and Hell

I have Charles to thank (yet again) for REV. 23, an opera which explores heaven, hell and everything in between. I was wondering one day about where Charles was. It amused me that my incorrigible, irascible and impossible husband wouldn’t be caught dead (pardon the pun) in heaven (not that he’d be welcome there) as he’d rather be with the more interesting people in the “other”place.

photo by Kathy Wittman

At this time, there was a rise in Islamic extremism, with a surge in jihadist terror around world. Many individuals of the Muslim faith were unfairly targeted as terrorists and many writers speculated about the rewards of martyrdom including the infamous 72 virgins that await martyrs in Paradise. I wondered what a Christian Paradise would be in comparison to the sexual pleasures of an Islamic Paradise. Since I was the product of an American Methodist Missionary school in Singapore, I knew there would be no sex involved. To find out, I turned to the most detailed account of a Christian Paradise I knew – the divine visions of John of Patmos, author of the Book of Revelation.

Poring over the Book of Revelation over and over again (it’s a very short book), I felt increasingly uneasy that perhaps I wouldn’t be happy in a place of perfect happiness and that Charles, as always, was right to eschew this place. As I began to explore the source of my uneasiness, the framework of a new opera began to take shape. I titled it, REV. 23, the final unpublished chapter of the Book of Revelation, which officially ends at chapter 22.

photo by Kathy Wittman

Many composers I approached about collaborating on REV, 23 did not know what to make of this strange beast which mixes the multiculturalism I champion (here, it’s Greek myth, the Chinese “Art of War,” and Judeo-Christian theology), best described by Zachary Woolfe of the New York Times as “a madcap explosion of lovable ludicrousness.”  But Julian Wachner did. An “eschatonian” par excellence, Julian dived into the piece with mischievous glee, delivering “an explosively, virtuosically eclectic score.”

The great anti-hero of this piece is Lucifer, the bright and morning star who was cast down from heaven when he rebelled against the Almighty. Some say he brought sin to the world; these same people make it their lives’ goal to regain Paradise lost. I say he brought humanity to human beings, giving us the forbidden fruit of knowledge, making us “like God, knowing good and evil.” And for this gift, Lucifer can no longer see the face of God, an agony he is doomed to live with eternally.

photo by Kathy Wittman

So like my White Snake, my Lucifer is a deeply flawed, terribly vulnerable, totally fearless and utterly human being who battles demons inside and out and whose future is yet to be written. The eternal outsider yearning to be let in.

Be safe, be well, be human,
Cerise and all of us at White Snake Projects, An Activist Opera Company