Re-thinking Lilith

8232Leonardo da Vinci famously observed that “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” However, it’s also been noted many times that art must breathe and evolve. In this spirit, artists occasionally seize an opportunity to re-examine and re-fashion an earlier work, with the goal of imbuing it with fresh insights and nuances gained through time and distance.

Such is the case with Lilith, an opera by composer Anthony Davis and librettist Allan Havis that premiered at UC San Diego in 2009. Lilith explores and celebrates the ageless erotic myth of Lilith, Adam’s apocryphal first wife who preceded Eve in the Garden of Eden and was subsequently exiled. That premiere production featured a cast of veteran singers supported by a jazz-influenced ensemble in a “concert” (i.e., unstaged) version of the complete work.

8232Forward to Fall 2015, and a workshop production of the first five scenes of Lilith semi-staged for a small audience. Workshop productions, common in theatre (though less so in opera) allow the creators to explore and refine the work in an intimate setting. Freed from the pressures attendant to a full staging, the artists are encouraged to experiment and take risks. Acclaimed Stage Director Keturah Stickann, Visual & Interactive Designer Peter Torpey, and their collaborators bring their combined theatrical experience to bear on this “re-creation” of the opera, making extensive use of windows, mirrors, screens and shadows to reflect the myriad contours of a female identity – Lilith – betrayed and split into two halves. Projections are strategically employed as visual representations of the paradoxes of Lilith’s roles in Paradise and in contemporary life.

The music also takes a different form. The cast is composed of young, up-and-coming singers, and rather than a larger ensemble Music Director Alan Johnson leads a piano/bass combo. Combined with the compact setting and innovative staging, the overall effect is to sharpen the focus on the eon-spanning conflicts between Lilith and Adam, and Lilith and the Creator.

Watching the original production, the supplemental features, and the new workshop production – cleverly titled [Re]Creating Lilith by Your Humble Correspondent – offers the viewer a rare opportunity to trace the creative evolution of a work from inception through refinement to re-definition. Da Vinci would be intrigued.

Watch [Re]Creating Lilith.


Contributed by John Menier, UCSD-TV Producer