How might we decipher the enigma of the story of Jephta’s daughter? The Old Testament doesn’t give us any information about her life and character. She doesn’t even have a name; she’s only called “the daughter”.
Since she asks for time – two months – to leave and come back, it is not simply a murder. It is, in a sense a choice: she returns and complies with the sacrifice. What motivates that “choice”? Why and in what way does she sacrifice herself for her father’s fame and glory? At the same time, what is Jephta’s character and how is it possible for a father to sacrifice his own daughter – the thing which is precious to him most – for power, leadership and control?
Trying to understand this 3,000 year-old story, I’ve decided to examine basic human mechanisms such as female self-sacrifice, the value of virginity, the female body as a commodity, the raging victim syndrome, violence and sensuality, the paternal law of state and religion, and the image of ultimate freedom in a state of being that is uninhibited precisely because it is teleologically bound.
The piece is divided into two parts. It starts where the story ends – with the daughter’s physical sacrifice in a constrained universe which is the father’s world. The second part travels back in time to the universe the daughter seeks to create before being sacrificed – the two months in the mountains with her friends. In this chapter I aim to create a farewell party for un-lived experiences and fantasies. Setting out from the question “what would you do if you had two months to live”, this chapter is about the celebration of life in the face of imminent death.
The Old Testament book of Judges tells the story of Jephta and his daughter. At the climax of a great battle to defend his land, the newly appointed leader of the people of Israel swears an oath: If God will grant him victory, Jephta will offer him what or whomever should greet him upon his return as a sacrifice. And so it is that as Jephta returns home triumphant it is his daughter who runs to meet him. She respects her father's oath, but requests a grace period of two months in which to withdraw to the mountains with her friends and "weep for her virginity".
In response to variations on this story of sacrifice, and in dialogue with their musical interpretations - in particular, Giacomo Carissimi's oratorio Historia di Jephteof 1647 - with a troupe of dancers, singers and musicians, Israeli choreographer Saar Magal explores some of the puzzles at the heart of the story: What motive compels the father to remain true to his word? What happens during the two months' grace that the daughter successfully persuades her father to grant? Where do the women go? What happens to them there? Why do they return? Their exploration leads them through a whole spectrum of themes woven into this strange tale: sacrifice and self-sacrifice, faith and devotion, virginity and innocence, ambition, invention, conceit and the public eye.
Jephta's Daughter was produced by the Bayerische Staatsoper Opernfestspiele in July 2015.
|Concept, Directing & Choreography||Saar Magal|
|Musical Director||Haggai Cohen-Milo|
|Composition||Haggai Cohen-Milo, Mateo Lugo, James Shipp|
|Conceptual Collaborator||David J. Levin|
|Set Design||Lea Dietrich|
|Assistant Choreographer||Magdalena Padrosa|
|Creating Performers||Leila Bakhtali, Adaya Berkovich, Jasmine Ellis, Margaux Marielle-Trehoüart, Shiori Tada, Hervé Guerrisi, Elik Niv, Moritz Ostruschnjak|
|Singers||Friederike Mauß, Josephine Renelt (Sopran) Richard Resch (Tenor) Frederic Jost (Bass)|
|Instruments||Haggai Cohen-Milo (Contrabass, Synthesizer, Schlagwerk) Mateo Lugo (Guitar, Gesang, Analogprogrammierung) James Shipp (Vibraphon, Schlagwerk, Gesang)|
BAYERISCHE STAATSOPER FESTSPIEL-WERKSTATT
Premiered at Haus der Kunst, Munich, July 2015
Künstlerische Produktionsleitung Sandra Eberle Technische Produktionsleitung Nico Sutter Produktionsassistenz, Inspizienz Esteban Muñoz Lichtinspizienz Urte Regler Ausstattungsassistenz Linda Sollacher Ton Klemens Schulze, Clemens Nagl Video Johannes Mayrhofer Bühnenmeister Ralf Wendorf Werkstätten Mathias Kaschube, Peter Buchheit Transport Florian Kunz Deko/Requisite Herbert Häming Produktionsleitung Kostüm Anna Rehm Garderobe Daniel Schröder Maske E. Achim Meier, Alexander Gehs.
Video Marino Solokhov
Photos Lea Dietrich