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the ariadne project
The Ariadne myth is very powerful emotionally, as well as evoking strong, almost cinematic images. The story itself is very dramatic. Theseus, who is a prince of Athens, is sent to Crete to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, a monster that is half-human half-bull, who is the half-brother of Ariadne, who is the daughter of Minos, the King of Crete. Ariadne falls in love with Theseus. Daedalus, an architect and inventor who had been banished from Athens and exiled to Crete, has constructed the labyrinth where the Minotaur lives. He takes Ariadne to Theseus, and they make plans for Theseus to kill the Minotaur. Daedalus shows Theseus how to find the Minotaur, and Ariadne gives him a spool of thread so he can find his way out of the labyrinth. After killing the Minotaur, Theseus sets fire to Knossos and then flees Crete by boat with Ariadne. (Daedalus and his son Icarus put on wings and fly away from Crete.) Theseus and Ariadne land on Naxos, a wild and deserted island in the Aegean Sea, where he abandons her. After Ariadne gives up everything in order to help Theseus, he deserts her and leaves her with nothing.
Writers from Homer, Theocritus, Catullus, Ovid, Chaucer, and Shakespeare to contemporary authors have written about Ariadne or referred to her, and I had been planning on using this public domain material for my lyrics. That was until late 1995, when I came across information that suggested that there was an earlier, feminist version of the Ariadne myth, which made me reconsider everything that I'd done to date. While the Greek myth of Ariadne is a great one with lots of dramatic potential, it had always bothered me to be portraying such a weak female character, one who'd betray everything and everybody for the first cute guy who came along, as well as being portrayed as such a passive character, one who could be abandoned so easily. So, when I came across this information that contradicted a lot of the myth (as well as most Greek myths), I jumped at the chance to follow it up. Since then I've done a lot of research and thinking (see below for references), and now I'm trying to create a pre-Hellenic Ariadne, which isn't exactly easy, since it occured before writing, or at least writing that we've been able to decipher (i.e., before Linear B). I'm no longer using the four original pieces and have started over. O Magna Vasti Creta and Call of the Dance are the first two pieces in the new Ariadne of Knossos.
Ariadne was actually a goddess and/or queen of Crete in neolithic Minoan Crete (Knossos was the capital of Crete), which was matrilineal at the time and had goddesses but no gods. The bull was a sacred symbol in Minoan Crete. Crete was conquered by the Greeks (the Acheans and Dorians), who were extremely patriarchal, about 1500-1100 BCE. The Greeks had a habit of creating myths to justify their conquest of a territory, or to show a common lineage. Thus, Ariadne was transformed from a goddess to a whimsical girl who would betray her country for a handsome stranger; the bull was turned from a sacred symbol into a murderous monster; and Theseus was transformed from a murderous conqueror into the ideal Athenian (in this as well as many other Greek myths). I am still assimilating this information and am writing a libretto reflecting what I have discovered, using material from a variety of sources that reflects my new approach to the myth. There are a lot of conflicting and contradictory strands of the myth, which are all compelling.
I believe that there is no definitive version of the myth, all strands of the myth being hopelessly intertwined, so I'm trying to incorporate them all into my piece. This nonlinear approach is fitting, since the labyrinth is so central to the myth of Ariadne.
I am using two sopranos to portray Ariadne (to portray the duality of her character), a tenor for Theseus, women's choir, mixed chorus, string ensemble, and dancer/actors. The concept of using a traditional Greek style of theatre, using just two or three actors and a chorus in the depiction of an old Greek story in a contemporary manner intrigues me, especially since the Ariadne story can (and will) have a strong feminist viewpoint. There is also a precedent from ancient times of "girl" choirs and dancers. (About the seventh century BCE, a form of choral dance developed, called the hypercheme, in which the dancing and gesticulating chorus was reinforced by a stationary group of singers.) There are also indications that Greek drama was developed from the ancient religious rites of women (reading Euripides gives a hint of this). The singers will not participate in the action on stage. All of the dramatic action will be performed by the actor/dancers while the music is being performed. The soloists may also be called upon to sing parts other than those of Ariadne and Theseus. There will be a strong design element incorporating projections, simple sets, props, and lighting.
I feel that the Ariadne story can be made into a powerful musical and dramatic statement, as well as being visually and emotionally powerful. Not only that, the project is interesting in many other ways: feminist, religious, historical, and anthropological. I am looking forward to having the opportunity to complete it. As Helmut Jaskolski, in The Labyrinth: Symbol of Fear, Rebirth, and Liberation has said: "The Minotaur, Theseus, Daedalus-these are images of man, the male, a point made not only by our modern feminists. In point of fact, the memory of Ariadne, the original lady of the labyrinth, has practically disappeared in the course of the history of European culture. What has survived in the male story of the Labyrinth is the clue that helped Theseus, the proverbial 'thread of Ariadne.' Sympathy for the Cretan princess has been expressed almost solely by composers. We find it in Claudio Monteverdi's fragmentary opera Ariadne's Lament, and in Richard Strauss's opera Ariadne of Naxos, composed at the beginning of this century. At the end of the twentieth century, the moment has certainly come, not only to lament Ariadne, but also to restore to her her ancient rights."
Bibliography / Sources:
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