Stanford University presented two performances of Conrad Susa’s one-act Chamber opera for Christmas, The Wise Women, in December this year. Susa is known for his operas, particularly perennial favorites like Transformations and The Dangerous Liaisons. With this work, he offers a new perspective on the nativity and its mysteries. The audience gets a taste of that mystery as well, as Susa included passages of aleatoric music and passages for the audience to sing.
The 2017 production by Stanford was staged at the university’s Memorial Church, and was sponsored by the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, as well as the Department of Music and Office for Religious Life. The ensemble was made up of students, faculty, staff, and community members. For more information on the production, check out this article by Robin Wander.
Synopsis of the Opera
Led by a tri-partite star, the Wise Men (Youth, Husband, Old Man), followed by the women (Maiden, Goodwife, Crone), rest at an oasis. Discussion of their trip causes disagreement between the men, who insist they seek an adult king, and the women, who are certain the monarch will be a baby. Deciding to leave the women behind, the men proceed with their entourage following the impatient star. Disappointed, angry and confused, the women lament their fates and retire. As the women sleep, the Holy Mother and Child appear to them in a vision, allowing them to see the baby before the men do. As the shepherds descend on Bethlehem to worship the Child, the Wise Men arrive and question the regality of the Child. A host of unusual angels addresses these doubts in a unique version of the angels’ message. During the singing of the Gloria, the Wise Men offer their gifts and retire; the shepherds return telling others the good news and the Holy Family is transported to the oasis of the Wise Women. The star invites “children” of all ages to come to the oasis to see the baby. These children and the women fall asleep as the Holy Family leaves. The disappointed and confused Wise Men return. In riddle, the women help the men to understand that the best gift for this King is one which recognizes divinity in every child: love.