The early operas told the tales of the gods and heroes: Jove, Juno, Apollo, Aeneas, and the whole pantheon of Greeks and Romans who made the world what it was then and, in so many ways, still is today. Then opera emerged from the Church music of Italy and we hear references to God, and all his glory.
Hitherto I had not come across an opera that refers to the Holy Trinity: God the Father; God the Son; and God the Holy Ghost. In Sunday school in a dusty hall in a desolate part of Springs, we were taught the credo: I believe in the Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Nobody tried to explain this to us–it was the credo and that is what we were taught to say without thought, analysis, or understanding.
My father once questioned the concept of three gods in one. He asked the priest, who later refused to allow our black servants to my father’s funeral, what it all meant. The priest, no great intellect, answered: “That is what it is. It is a matter of faith. You take it as part of our religion.”
My father was not satisfied with this answer–it always worried him, as did the concept of centripetal force. He did not have the access I have had to education and books to find the answers. Now we know the Holy Trinity was an act of political consensus at the Council of Niceae and the First Council of Constantinople in 382. Or as is stated in Wikipedia:
The Trinity is considered to be a mystery of Christian faith. According to this doctrine, there is only one God in three persons. Each person is God, whole and entire. They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: as the Fourth Lateran Council declared, “it is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds”. While distinct in their relations with one another, they are one in all else. The whole work of creation and grace is a single operation common to all three divine persons, who at the same time operate according to their unique properties, so that all things are from the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. The three persons are co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial.
Now you should be persuaded. It is easy: three gods of different origins and responsibilities who are actually one and a magnificent cooperating triumvirate. My father would be impressed.
Of course opera prefers God: one old jewish-like fellow in charge of it all and to be invoked in great music to help in times of distress. Some operas refer to Jesus as saviour; but in a relatively half-hearted fashion.
In America, we prefer Jesus. He is a tangible hero. A good man, of wise philosophy and many great acts. A sort of super politician of the left against the money lenders and the corporate structure–unless you happen to be therein, in which case he is a family man and good for the ruling class. Kind of like Chinese communism: nobody believes it, but it keeps the masses in line, keeps the party powerful, and keep the system profitable.
So it was with great interest that last night I watched a DVD of Tchaikovsky’s final opera Iolanta. Frequently we heard great praise of the Holy Trinity. Not a reference to God or Jesus; only the Trinity. Oh except for the wise physician who invokes Allah to cure the blind Iolanta. Allah is the only one in the opera who actually achieves anything.
During the Soviet era, Iolanta was a favorite opera, but as we are told in a documentary on the DVD, the Soviets cut all reference to Allah and the Holy Trinity. Not sure how they kept the story moving or the emotion high. Probably by referring to Stalin and the Party as the saviours and granters of sight to blind Iolanta.
For Iolanta is a symbol of all societies that deny. She is blind at birth. Her father, the king, decrees that none shall tell her of this or speak of things of sight, including color. Which causes immediate confusion when the courting knight asks her for a red rose, and she confesses she knows not what that is. Thus are societies that deny their citizens full access to knowledge just like our church denied us knowledge of the origins of the trinity, as China denies this blog, and as Stalin censored good Russian opera in the interests of the Party.