Posted by: smstrouse | July 14, 2013

A Night at the Opera with Mary Magdalene

Thanks to the gift of a free ticket from the San Francisco Interfaith Council, I had the privilege of attending a performance of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. It was my first opera, so I had no idea what to expect. I earnestly hoped it wouldn’t be anything like the Oberammergau Passion Play, which I suffered through back in 1990. I figured three hours at the opera just couldn’t be worse than the six hours I’d forever lost back then.

Reviews have been mixed. One member of our party left at intermission, as did some others. I’ll admit that the first act left me somewhat cold, but I’m really glad I stayed. Like a good introvert, I took a few days to process it all and came to the conclusion that there were some things I liked about it, and some I did not.

I’ll start with the likes.

  • Biblical characters on stage at a major opera house
  • Mary of Magdala portrayed as a strong, intelligent woman, who not only learned from Jesus, but taught him as well.
  • A wider audience exposed to the Gospel of Mary, as well as to teachings that don’t separate body and spirit, that allow for the possibility that Jesus and Mary were married. A beautiful love story, with sexuality seen as good and natural.
  • Sasha Cooke as Mary – phenomenal!

What I didn’t like:

  • The opera opens with Mary caught in bed with her married lover. She’s “the woman caught in adultery” who Jesus rescues from stoning – not!  All the attempts to undo the damage to Mary’s reputation – undone in the opening act.
  • Jesus is a cipher. Why anyone would follow him when he was alive, let alone after his death, is a mystery.
  • The animosity between Mary and Peter was well done, but the choices they presented to Jesus: either ride into Jerusalem as the leader of a political move against Rome (Peter) or remain a completely inner, spiritual movement (Mary) – too simplistic and dualistic.
  • Weird scene at the tomb, with a body and a ghost, and overuse of the fog machine

I’ve read and heard other likes and dislikes from other people. There was a wonderful presentation and discussion of the opera led by Kayleen Asbo, who had led Q&A sessions after each performance, at Sagrada Bookstore in Oakland. I found her insights into the mind of composer Mark Adamo extremely helpful in understanding what he was trying to portray and why – just as we do with all gospel writers.

Some of the attendees at the Sagrada event had seen the opera three and four times. I might go to see it again – especially with a free ticket – but no more than that. But I can understand the emotions of having a woman’s spiritual voice heard and leadership affirmed. For that reason alone, I’m glad the San Francisco Opera decided to produce this controversial work. I hope there will be more like it.



  1. […] following was published on 7/14/2013 by Pastor Susan M. […]


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