Biblical Archaeology Review 40:2, March/April 2014

Strata: Archaeology on the Opera Stage

Rare, if ever, is it that an archaeological excavation in the Holy Land is the backdrop for an opera. But that is the case in the opening scene of a new opera that received its premiere at the prestigious San Francisco Opera last June. Called The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, score and libretto by veteran opera composer Mark Adamo, the opera reimagines Jesus’ life through the eyes of Mary Magdalene during the time leading up to his crucifixion. Adamo’s work, inspired by the Gnostic Gospels, presents the Magdalene as Jesus’ most important disciple—and also his wife.a

In the opening scene, five modern-day Christians, called “Seekers,” are at an archaeological excavation in the Holy Land. Frustrated by contemporary Christianity’s traditional attitude toward sex and the subservient role of women, they are nevertheless unwilling to fully abandon the tradition. The anguish of the Seekers summons a chorus that promises to “correct and complete” the story with recently discovered versions of the New Testament.

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