ABOUT THE GENESIS OF THE FAITH OPERAS
I’d been carrying around the idea of writing a musical about Kea Tanawa and the ark she built in the parking lot of her church in downtown Newark, NJ since it happened in the mid 1980s. I’d tried to write a draft of it with a collaborator at the time, but it ran aground on the fact that the villain of the musical was going to have to be the zoning board. Yawn. But when someone suggested I write a piece to submit to a 10-minute opera competition, the scene where the minister asks her, “What’s all this scrap lumber for?” came immediately to mind, and became Maya’s Ark, with some developmental help from Ardea Arts. (Please let me stress that this is heavily fictionalized, and the character of Maya in particular has very little resemblance to her model.)
It was only a year or so later that Harold Camping predicted that the Rapture was going to take place in April; I ran across a bunch of his followers carrying signs at a street fair in New York City, and thought, “Man, to be a fly on the wall when that moment comes and goes! Oh, wow—that’s my next ten minute opera!” And it was: that was the seed that became Rapture.
At that point I realized I had a theme going, and the idea of a collection of short operas on the subject of faith sprouted. My wife Lynn had the idea that became A Fine Invention: a Christian Scientist couple with a gravely ill child.
I knew I needed a longer piece to round out the evening, and I vaguely remembered the Heaven’s Gate cult, who all committed suicide because they were convinced their spirits would be given new bodies on a spaceship following the Hale-Bopp comet. I had it confused with Jonestown at first, and it took a bit of research to straighten it out, but the Heaven’s Gate cult’s website is still up. Most of the depiction of the cult comes from details gleaned from that site. The characters and events of the opera are entirely of my imagining, though.
My friend Experience Bryon of Central School of Speech and Drama in London, who has helped with dramaturgical aspects of all of these, characterized Maya’s Ark as “faith restored,” Rapture as “faith destroyed," A Fine Invention as “faith challenged,” and actually she never followed that through for Heaven’s Gate, but I think I’d call it “faith transformed."
- DAVID WOLFSON