The Canticle of the Black Madonna

A new opera in two acts

By Ethan Gans-Morse &
Tiziana DellaRovere

Frequently Asked Questions

“Healing is the leap out of suffering and the leap into myth.”

Joseph Campbell

What is the Canticle of the Black Madonna?

The Canticle of the Black Madonna is a new and truly unique opera that seamlessly combines elements of contemporary opera, classical oratorio, Jungian psychodrama, and Greek ritual theater to provide a powerful portrayal of how Post Traumatic Stress impacts the veteran and the family, and to provide a path toward healing the souls of those wounded by war.

Created by Southern Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse and librettist Tiziana DellaRovere, it features six principal characters, chorus, and orchestra.

What is the story about?

Set in Louisiana during the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill, The Canticle of the Black Madonna explores the inner and outer worlds of Adam, a fictional American soldier who has recently returned from combat in Afghanistan, and his wife Mara, the manager of Adam’s father’s oyster farm in Adam’s absence. The story centers on Adam’s struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Mara’s torment as she copes with her husband’s violent outbursts and the environmental effects of the spill, and their shared search for emotional, psychological, and spiritual healing and redemption.

Through a rich combination of modern and ancient music, The Canticle ultimately reveals the healing power of a primal force of divine love, represented by the Black Madonna, which transforms them both forever and touches all who witness it.

What makes this piece so special?

The Canticle of the Black Madonna is special because it goes beyond the simple narration of the story by interweaving characters drawn from the depths of what Carl Jung termed the “Collective Unconscious.” These characters, the Black Madonna and two angels, give voice to and embody spiritual archetypes of compassion that can be profoundly healing to the psyche and the soul. The presence of the Black Madonna, a representation of  the timeless realm of the sacred in the midst of a contemporary story, creates a juxtaposition between the seen and the unseen, the modern and the ancient, and the inner world of dreams and the deep psyche and the outer world of everyday life.

To read more details about the story and its powerful healing message, please visit our Story Page.

Who is the “Black Madonna”?

The title character of this opera is not intended to be any representation of the Catholic faith. Rather, the opera employs longstanding icons of faith and mysticism firmly established in the European musical tradition in order to dramatize the perfect mother-love that comes to us in our moments of greatest pain and despair, regardless of religious convictions or lack thereof.

The name “Black Madonna” is most closely associated with the dark-skinned paintings and statues of medieval Europe to which numerous miracles have been attributed, such as the Madonnas of Tindari, Montserrat, Częstochowa, and many others. The Black Madonna belongs to the tradition of  potent mother goddesses, such as Isis, Cybele, and Demeter. Not merely limited to their roles and depictions in religious scripture, these Black Madonnas are all incarnations of a single, powerful archetype. In this sense, the “Black Madonna” is the all-powerful, all-present divine love of the Universal Mother who gives us inner strength to persevere through our greatest hardships, nurtures us when we lose hope, and dries our tears when we are inconsolable.

While psychology has much to offer trauma survivors, it is the living experience of this love that enables them to feel whole again, and while many of us are spared the life-shattering traumas experienced by survivors of war and holocaust, we all share a deep and often repressed craving for this Dark Mother to inhabit us in the midst of our pain and guilt in order to restore our sense of goodness and our sense of belonging to the larger, all-loving family of humanity.

What is the meaning of the title and the word “Canticle”?

A canticle is a sacred song. Like the character of the Black Madonna in the opera, the use of the word canticle in the title draws from centuries of rich cultural heritage in order to refashion new sacred songs, new myths, and new incarnations of the healing power of love that are ideally suited our contemporary world.

Many of the psychic and emotional wounds of war cut so deep that they appear insurmountable to returning veterans and their families. It is here that the invocation of the sacred is essential to the mission of The Canticle of the Black Madonna: Not the sacred in the sense of a religious denomination, but the sacred in the sense of the most intimate and universal human experiences of life and death. It is in the realm of sacred song and ritual and that the deepest healing is possible, namely the healing of our collective society, both civilian and military.

In the book What It is Like to Go to War, Vietnam veteran Karl Marlantes writes,

“Most of us, including me, would prefer to think of a sacred space as some light-filled wondrous place where we can feel good and find a way to shore up our psyches against death. We don’t want to think that something as ugly and brutal as combat could be involved in any way with the spiritual. However, would any practicing Christian say that Calvary Hill was not a sacred space?”

Who is producing the world premiere?

The opera is produced by Anima Mundi Productions, with additional support from A Rock or Something Productions, a Portland, OR-based artistic 501.c.3 nonprofit created by and for combat veterans with the stated goal “to promote interaction between the veteran community and the civilian community through writing, stage, film, and music.”

“Anima Mundi” means “the soul of the world,” and refers to the animating life force that breathes love into all creation across all religions, cultures, and generations. We believe that the dire problems afflicting the world today must be confronted openly with a loving heart, and that the arts are the ideal vehicle for social change and the healing of the wounds of the world because they speak directly to the human unconscious through symbolism, ritual, and shared communal experience.

What direct services does this production offer to military families?

Military families will be our guests for the closed-door final full dress rehearsal on September 4th, where we will have community partners and service providers on site to provide resources and referrals, followed by a facilitated post-performance discussion. We will provide six art therapy workshops for veterans commencing in June of 2014; deliver a psycho-educational peer support seminar for families and family caregivers of injured veterans, and conduct related outreach to veterans groups and service providers.

Full details here

Where can I learn more about The Canticle of the Black Madonna and how can I get involved?

This website will provide continuous updates, multimedia, and event announcements regarding the upcoming 2014 professional premiere in Portland, Oregon. To learn more about how the piece came to be and how you can get involved, please read more About the Opera here. To learn more about the story, please visit our Story Page. To read our most recent press and project documents, including our article in the National Opera Association, please check out our Press Documents. To read what experts are saying about The Canticle of the Black Madonna, check out our Endorsements Page. If you would like to write us directly, please visit our Contact Page.

To stay up to date with the very latest news and to learn how you can participate in this exciting artistic and cultural event, please follow us on facebooktwitter, and via our email updates.

Are contributions tax-deductible?

Yes. Anima Mundi Productions is a 501.c.3 nonprofit artistic initiative, and your contribution is tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law. Please visit our Contributions Page to learn about how you or your business can make a contribution or become a sponsor.

“Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths…
Myth must be kept alive. The people who can keep it alive are the artists of one kind or another.”

Joseph Campbell