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Mark Adamo

Publisher: G. Schirmer

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (2013)
Text Writer
the composer
G Schirmer Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Year Composed
2 Hours 30 Minutes
4S, 2Mz, 4T, 3Bar, 3B
Solo Instrument(s)
SATB chorus; supers (6M, 6F)
Programme Note
Mark Adamo The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (2013)
Drawing on the Gnostic gospels, the canonical gospels, and fifty years of New Testament scholarship, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene reimagines the New Testament through the eyes of its lone substantial female character. At first, this Mary Magdalene, like so many moderns, searches for meaning and purpose in erotic love alone. But her entanglement with Jesus of Nazareth — as mentor, soulmate, and co-minister — teaches her to distinguish love from possession, even as it teaches him to see the moral dignity of women. Mary’s clashes with Jesus’s disciple Peter (minutely described in the Gnostic Gospels) suggest how the personal politics within Jesus’ movement may have played out in its own place and time. And this opera imagines a version of Mary’s vision at Jesus’s tomb which — had it shaped the Christian story the way Peter’s version of it did — might have left us a radically, radiantly different Western world.

San Francisco Opera
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MIRIAM, soprano
MARY MAGDALENE, mezzo-soprano
PETER, tenor
YESHUA, baritone


TWO POLICE, tenor, baritone
FOLLOWERS, TTBB Quartet or Octet*

ENSEMBLE ROLES. (under six lines)

TAMAR, s. (May also sing Girl 1.)
THREE GIRLS, s, s, mz.(Girl 2 or 3 may double Slave Woman.)
*TWO PREACHERS, t, t. (May also sing Followers 1 & 2.)
SIMON, bn.
*ONLOOKER, bn. (May also sing Follower 3.)
*FISHMONGER, bs-bn. (May also sing Follower 4.)


JAMES and JOSES. Sons of Mary. Young, strong, severe.
A SQUAD OF POLICEMEN. …who disperse the crowd at Yeshua’s second sermon.
A SLAVE WOMAN Suspicious of Peter, at Yeshua’s execution.
ONLOOKERS …at YESHUA’s sermons and his crucifixion.


SATB. The audience.

View Act I - volume 2
View Act II

View Libretto

A "brilliant synthesis of musical and literary values that distinguishes opera at its best…The opening is a meditation of discontent with the Canonical texts, punctuated by the archaeological discovery of alternative texts offering different versions of the story of a man from Nazareth upon whom a major religion would be based. Thus begins an alternate history of the Gospels that, in the final scene, leads to the crypt which the Magdalene has entered to anoint the body of the Nazarene (Yeshua). Reviewing the life they lived together, Mary asks, 'What hasn’t died?,' to which Yeshua replies 'The story.' This is followed by the only real aria for the Yeshua character, a heart-rending poem in contemporary language all constructed around the two-word cell 'Tell them,' which, in all of its repetitions, is sung in stepwise motion. In that moment the attentive listener recognizes, through that stepwise motion, that the entire opera amounts to the fulfillment of Yeshua’s injunction… It is rare to encounter a composer who is as comfortable with the subtleties of literature as with the fundamental logic, grammar, and rhetoric of musical composition. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene was a riveting dramatic experience, as compelling in narrative as it was in music."
Stephen Smoliar,,08/07/2013
"A monumental work: Adamo’s third, most ambitious and certainly most personal opera to date. Its subject matter and construction are entirely unique: yet, like many other artistic works designed to challenge the intellect, the more one studies this work, the more one finds…Adamo presents Yeshua as a human being, affected by emotion and erotic impulses, often as conflicted as he is purposive. Through the dialogue between Mary Magdalene and Yeshua’s vision, as through the debates between Peter, Yeshua and Magdalene earlier, Adamo creates the artistic expression of a radical reinterpretation of early Christian thought... The lyrical passages with which the opera abounds are even sweeter and more engaging on repeated hearings. The bedroom scene with its extended arias, beautifully orchestrated, between the Nazarene and Magdalene, I suspect, will be an early favorite of the opera’s admirers… Adamo’s verses are those of a poet immersed in the exotic imagery of the Psalms and Song of Songs: and, in the scene of the wedding night, the simplicity of Adamo’s poetry adds an effect of its own… Adamo’s palette of music and poetry is impressive in the interweaving of the poetry, the vocal lines, and the orchestral instrumentation (with frequently recurring motives that move from instrument to instrument) and poetry… All of the elements are there to suggest that Adamo is one of the contemporary American composers who I believe are likely to achieve the goal of enriching the operatic repertory."
William Burnett, Opera Warhorses,08/07/2013
"A feast for ears, eyes and mind…I’ve come away excited after many memorable evenings with San Francisco Opera, but perhaps not quite so much—and certainly not in the same way—as I did this week after seeing the world premiere of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene….It was absolutely thrilling to hear and see an opera that depicts all these individuals as real people, eloquently grappling with real questions, in complex relationships. Adamo’s latest opera has beautiful, memorable music: but his libretto is as complex, coherently imagined, and deeply interesting as a literary novella, from which you gain more on rereading…The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is an intellectual as well as operatic delight."
Pamela Feinsilber, The Huffington Post,06/07/2013
"Fervor and fine pacing…Adamo’s tonal, sometimes dissonant music is packed with dazzle and drama. The opera chorus narrates the story potently, and the lyric duets between Mary and Yeshua and Mary and Peter, and Mary’s solo reflections, are the most memorable moments in the opera. Love is sought and given, and the music is never mawkish… A performance of great dignity and intense feeling."
Beth Spotswood, CBS San Francisco,28/06/2013
"Thoughtful, earnest, and, at times, deeply affecting… The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is a vital reappraisal of the heroine’s story and deserves hearings beyond its San Francisco run. By emphasizing the humanity of its characters – disregarding Christian dogma and supernatural dissonances (virgin birth, miracles, resurrection) – Adamo has located the story’s more universal aspects and created a compelling, dramatic journey."
Jeffery S. McMillan, Bachtrack,24/06/2013
A "musically fecund work…Adamo’s powerful musical score, coupled by nuanced and moving performances from the cast — the American mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke is particularly mesmerizing in the title role — serve to take us beyond the merely shallow. The composer’s straight-to-the-heart use of language and engulfing musical sonorities force the listener to become deeply involved in the characters’ stories…The fact that some of the arias feel like show tunes, complete with soaring melodies and lots of sentiment, easily draws listeners in. But there’s nothing easy or superficial about Adamo’s writing. The instrumentation creates constantly surprising timbres and the restless harmonic landscape undercuts the fluidity of the lines to make us understand that there’s more going on in each scene than surface texture… The Gospel of Mary Magdalene reminds us in our age, so obsessed with shiny surfaces, to look below for meaning."
Chloe Veltman, Arts Journal,23/06/2013
A "densely rhapsodic new opera… The Gospel of Mary Magdalene burns with the fervor of an artist championing a cause. Adamo's musical creation is lushly beautiful, suffused with ripe tonal harmonies and urgent, arching melodies that lodge immediately in the listener's memory. From scene to scene and moment to moment, 'The Gospel' sweeps the listener along on a stream of evocative music. Adamo has the ingenious knack for creating memorable themes whose recurrences serve as signposts for the drama, and his vocal writing is both urgent and shapely. There's an Act 1 love duet between Yeshua and Mary that draws on all the operatic traditions for infusing eroticism into the proceedings while adding a new sheen of spirituality. Arias for the main characters draw on a repertoire of thematic reminiscences, but in ways that create distinctive psychological portraits - Peter's inflexible zeal, Miriam's anguished self-reproach. And the opera's gorgeous final minutes attain a still-voiced grace that is affecting without seeming sentimental….If Adamo wanted to create believers in the Magdalene, he could not have done better."
Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle,20/06/2013
'Mr. Adamo's compositional voice in this score is essentially Neo-Romantic, though spiked with shards of dissonance and atonal infusions. He is a skillful orchestrator, and the conductor Michael Christie draws plush colorings and shimmering sounds from the orchestra... The production, directed fluidly by Kevin Newbury, uses a striking unit set designed by David Korins.'
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times,20/06/2013
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