Genesis, January 2015
Bard shuttered its doors to the winter’s first blizzard, and I am taking the time granted me to translate the bass solos in Haydn’s Creation and read up on its source material, Gensesis. My preparation to sing the bass role, Raphael, comes as Nina and I lay the conceptual groundwork of Making Tellus, which will draw on scientific, mythological, and poetic traditions to trace the advent of the Anthropocene - humanity’s emergence as a geologic force - and grapple with the implications of such power.
I flip through the dictionary from Wallfische to Löwe, Tiger, and Hirsch and write whale, lion, tiger, and stag in my score. God commands the Flutenwohner to fill the depths of the seas and der Bewohner der Luft to sing from every branch. Yet without a being to praise his glory, God’s work is incomplete, thus he creates man in his own image to complete his Creation.
From an early age, I considered Genesis a myth in the sense that it was not based in fact. A militant little atheist, I spent lunch hours in elementary and middle school arguing with classmates that Adam and Eve were made up, asserting that we were the products of evolution. We echoed the prevailing dialog about the role of Genesis in contemporary society: a competition of fact and faith. Fixation on the story’s veracity, however, does not address the powerful ways in which the explicit and implicit values of Genesis shape our society, and increasingly the Earth itself.
Whales persist. Hardly a week goes by that I do not see a stag near the forest’s edge, fearless in a predator-eradicated landscape. Lions and tigers roam where they are permitted. Upon learning that I would sing Raphael, I half-joked that I ought to rework the text of the aria “Nun scheint in vollem Glanze der Himmel” into the past tense, making “Die Luft erfüllt das leichte Gefieder” more accurately reflect the nature of increasingly biologically impoverished nature of our creation “Die Luft war gefüllt das leichte Gefieder.” But, at times, the air is still filled with flocks of birds. While walking to school in Central Pennsylvania’s winter mornings, I stood rapt as miles-long writhing flocks of black birds snaked across the sky. They were Starlings, introduced to North America in 1890 by the American Acclimatization Society, which sought to introduce all of the birds that appear in Shakespeare to the “New World.” (Kolbert, 211)
In 1597 Shakespeare wrote “I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but Mortimer,” naming the bird once in Henry IV Part I. In 2015, two hundred million starlings fill the skies of North America. The cultural imaginary gives shape to the ecological fabric of the world. God’s first command to man was, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” We follow God’s word. Even in the secular context of the concert hall, The Creation invokes a powerful mythology of humanity's relationship to the Earth and its inhabitants.
Making Tellus emerges from the recognition that the formative power of mythology extends beyond culture; we write it into the Earth.
Kolber, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2014)