Vladimir Tarnopolski
Beyond the Shadow
(Jenseits der Schatten)

A Multimedia Opera

Author's comments on the opera

The impulse for my work on the opera was given by two antique sources – Plato’s Parable of the Cave and the legend of Pliny the Elder about the Origin of Painting from the Shadow.

Plato presents the world in which we live in a figurative way as a cave, where all the people in the world are prisoners sitting in this cave. They can only see its wall, on which gleams of light from outside cast fanciful shadows. These shadows are what the prisoners of the cave perceive as the real world. The prisoner who goes out as a free man becomes blinded from the sunlight. If he is to return to the cave and attempt to explain to the prisoners what in truth is real life, his congeners will take him for a madman and might even deprive him of his life. By means of this parable Plato illustrates the idea of the great chasm between the world of appearances visible to us and the world of true ideas.

In another ancient Greek legend, described by Pliny, the shadow presents itself as the prototype of the visual art of painting. Wishing to preserve the visual image of the man she loves, who is setting out to war, the girl traces with a piece of coal the outline of his shadow, thereby creating an artistic image. This is how the art of painting was born.

Both of these parables are based on various interpretations of the phenomenon of the shadow. For Plato the shadow presents a signs of the world of ideas (Eidoses) in the visible world. For Pliny the shadow becomes an intermediary between the visible world and the world of art. In my scenario I made the attempt to confront together these two approaches, to present them in development and inter-cross-connection. In this “three-level universe” (the world of ideas – the visible world – the world of the arts) it is the Arts in particular – notwithstanding Plato’s well-known opinion of them – that can liberate the prisoners of Plato’s cave, demonstrating to them the path toward Light. And, in contrast to Pliny’s approach, the shadow, painting and the other forms of art present something much more substantial than merely optical or acoustic phenomena. True knowledge and true art have to do with passing beyond the limitations defined by the shadow, which becomes the field of confrontation between Light and Darkness.

The dramaturgy of the opera is based on the parallel development of two lines. The arts are presented in the opera n the form of a female vocal trio. The prisoners of the cave are presented by a male vocal trio. These seem to be two “three-headed” characters possessing three voices each who sing only in ensemble. The visual prototype of the female vocal trio is the Ancient Greek sculpture The Three Graces, whereas the prototype of the male trio is Rodin’s set of sculptures Shadows (from his compositions The Gates of Hell based on Dante). In the instrumental episodes the Arts and the Prisoners are presented respectively by a Female and Male Dancer. This, in particular, is the only character who reaches the Light. The two instrumental ensembles, situated on opposite tiers of the hall, are directly connected with their protagonists; the first ensemble – with the Arts, and the second – with the Prisoners.

The libretto is based on fragments of texts from Dante’s Divine Comedy, Leonardo’s The Argument of the Arts about their Primary Place, Ekhnaton’s Hymn to the Sun and other Classical sources.