The Canticle of the Black Madonna

A new opera in two acts

By Ethan Gans-Morse &
Tiziana DellaRovere

Memorial Day

Posted on May 31, 2011 | 0 comments

This past Memorial Day weekend, we finished the latest round of revisions to the libretto of The Canticle of the Black Madonna. The timing seems especially important, as today’s broadcasts were filled with stories of heroism and tragedy. Two stories touched me in particular. The most powerful for me was  the story of Jack Tueller, a WWII veteran who flew over 140 combat missions and always carried his trumpet with him throughout the war, saying that “music calms the beast” (to hear this truly remarkable story, click here). The other was the story of one of the 145 active duty and reserve members who succumbed to PTSD and took their own lives in the past year (to hear the story, click here).

People have asked me and Tiziana what our connection is with veterans of war and why we feel such a strong urge to create The Canticle of the Black Madonna as a vehicle of healing, and it seems appropriate on Memorial Day to write a brief response to this inquiry. Simply put, this project is our personal contribution to restoring balance to a society that feels increasingly out of touch with its own soldiers and with its own motivations for war. When civilian society refuses to accept the emotional burden of our nation’s wars, when we are unable to take on the guilt and shame that results from the horrors of war, then we condemn our veterans to shoulder that burden alone. Then, instead of treating them as heroes, warriors, and guardians, we relegate them the margins of society, projecting our own discomfort onto them. As a result, many vets feel alienated, having come in contact with the Warrior Archetype through combat and camaraderie, only to be denied the warrior’s training, appreciation, healing, and respect before and after their return home. The Canticle of the Black Madonna is our gift of healing to all who experience it, both military and civilian, in an effort to restore and reintegrate military and civilian societies through the media that we know best:  art, music, literature, and poetry.

While I (Ethan) have never had a direct experience of military service or living with combat veterans, Tiziana’s experience is quite different. Growing up in post-war Italy as the daughter of a decorated war hero who ultimately became a general, Tiziana learned first-hand the effects that war has on all members of society: soldiers, wives, children, and communities. Through coming to terms with the devastatingly traumatic effects that the war had on herself, her family, and her country, Tiziana is keenly sensitive to the dynamics of PTSD and how the aftereffects of war traumas can radiate out from one person to the next, from one country to the next, and from one generation to the next. These hard-lived experiences and insights give Tiziana a unique and potent perspective on war, which she has brilliantly imbued in her libretto for the Canticle of the Black Madonna.