Sex, death, Medea and sailing

Medea: “Call me what you want – savage, lioness, witch – I know that I have split you open and reached your heart with this.”

Jason: “And split yourself: you must share some pain”

Medea’s reasons for killing her two children – explosive sexual jealousy and a desire to punish her unfaithful husband –  are completely different from those of the impregnated rape victims of Bosnia, whose story is central to our work so far. And yet, as a virtuosic study of the state of mind of Woman capable of such horrors, Euripides play has provided a rich source of inspiration for me during our creative process, an almost unmatchably virtuosic portrait of Her shadow self.

Chorus: “Hellish witch! You must be made of stone or iron to cut down your own like this!”

Medea: “Medea is not mad. What more horror can there be? Sex leads to death, inexorably to grief is in the very seed of life”.

The power of woman’s sexual passion when turned upon itself can be overwhelming. Women are capable of loving unto death, whilst also having the capacity to kill when that huge force is thwarted. Medea’s great love is transformed through betrayal into it’s mysterious, occult sister: witch, sorceress, murderess. Woman contains all these contradictory forces: equally powerful as a force for darkness as her love is for light and new life.

Medea’s story begins shrouded in sorcery and bloodshed before she steps aboard the Argo to join her lover Jason:

Jason: “You killed your little brother the day you stepped aboard the Argo. You walked his blood across the decks. That’s how you began”

Enter, Split‘s connection to the sea. Composer Line Tjornhoj was a professional sailor from a young age and has many extraordinary tales of life at sea in an exclusively male environment. Photographic artist Jürgen Diemer is a passionate sailor, his great dream being to sail alone around the world. On the last day of our project he wore a t-shirt bearing the legend Work Less, on the front and Sail More, on the back. Line equates my constant travels around the world as freelance musician with sailing of a different kind.

The opening lines in the play, spoken by Medea’s old Nurse:

“If only it hadn’t happened like this. If the Argo hadn’t opened its sails and flown to Colchis through the Clashing Rocks, my dear Mistress Medea would never have met their leader Jason, never fallen for him head over heels, never left a life behind to sail away with him”.

In this line of thought, Woman emerges, Venus-like, from a mysterious sea. A Goddess rich with potentials for both life and its destruction. And sets sail for Love, Sex and Death.

On the last day of our time in the Kvindemuseet, Line handed me a simple bass line and the text of a love poem written to her by her first husband, a fellow sailor, and asked me to improvise a simple sea song on these haunting words. Overlaid with distant fog-horn sounds from blown tuned bottles, the song became part of our performance that evening.

Hei Sailor
Wipe the seafog from your eye
Hei Sailor
The wind is cold, I hear it sigh
Strong man
Drag the dead – the dead bodies from the icy sea
And stow them – in the bottom of your mind
There´s a catch sailor – a catch in the wreck
Better back out on the icy deck
I love you sailor – come back to me
You kiss me sailor and sail away
A storm sailor is gathering
Turn your back on me – run away to sea
You live your life in danger stream
Love is only in your dreams
Your heart i soft – your mind is steel
The tears you cry – you cry out real
Go sailor – wash down the deck
Tell the logbook ´bout the pain in you neck.

Something so Danish, to my London ears, about dead bodies included in a love poem. The conflicting forces of romantic love and the harsh life at sea, life and death, loss and abandonment, devastating forces of nature, are all here in these simple lines.

With these thoughts in the salty air, “Split” continues its voyage of creation, love, sex and death on board, plus the odd orchid stowaway.



~ by splittheopera on 21/03/2011.

One Response to “Sex, death, Medea and sailing”

  1. Amazing. I’m thrilled that Medea continues to be so fruitful after 2500 years. The passage where she reveals her murderous intentions to the the women of Corinth is one of those extraordinary moments in Greek tragedy. The women’s verbal reaction is unsurprising, but brief, and they were compelled by dramatic convention not to enter Medea’s space … I’m sure the final version of the opera will be wonderful. Joseph x

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