“We decided to symbolically anchor the Earth-based part of the lyrics on the agonizing experiences of a young woman struggling with a harsh reality. As Vavrek states in the introduction to the libretto: ‘Her footsteps tell stories.’ The music and imagery for this section were partly inspired by the Japanese mythology-rich forest Aokigahara. Sadly, the historic association of this forest with demons has led to numerous suicides on the site. To connect the life (and death) experience of the young woman to the heavens, we used the ancient Peruvian geoglyphs known as the Nazca Lines. Again in Vavrek’s words: ‘The woman walks in patterns, pictures emerge in the soil… She creates her own private Nazca lines, tattooing the Earth with her history.’ The Nazca lines in Peru are believed to have been created between the fifth and seventh centuries, and they are thought (at least by some researchers) to point to places on the horizon where certain celestial bodies rose or set. In other words, they truly marked a direct astronomical connection between the surface of the Earth and the heavens. In its conclusion, the Cantata completely intermingles the fate of the young woman with the ultimate fate of the stars. The shapes in the sand and the constellations in the sky become one, mirroring the tortuous path of human life in the dramatic Hubble images of outbursts that simultaneously mark stellar deaths and the promise for a new generation of stars, planets, and life.”
— Mario Livio
The first part of the Cantata followed the journey of a young woman, who in the aftermath of the loss of a child is driven to suicide in an Aokigahara-type environment. During that journey, we are made aware of the fact that those ribbons, are somewhat analogous to the Nazca lines, that were used to connect the Earth to celestial events, and through that, of the fact the human life and death are intimately related to stellar life and death. The elements that form our bodies were created in the hot cores of stars. We are star dust.
The new movement, premiered tonight by Nathan, will start with the husband trying to determine his wife’s fate by following in her footsteps:
Reaching the place where she left markings on the ground, following the ribbon, and again the Nazca connection to the heavens. But we now realize truths that go far beyond the mere life-stars connection. We realize that from a physical perspective, humans are but an insignificant speck in a vast universe. We live on a small planet that revolves around an ordinary star. Our solar system is not at the center, but rather two thirds of the way out, in the Milky Way galaxy – a collection of hundreds of billions of stars like the Sun. Even our galaxy is only one out of about two hundred billion galaxies in our observable universe. Not only are we not at the center of the universe, from a physical perspective, our universe doesn’t even have a center. It is homogeneous (the same everywhere) and isotropic (the same in every direction).
At the same time, we realize something else. The human mind expanded precisely at the same rate as did our universe: When Copernicus discovered that the Earth is not at the center of the solar system, it was us, humans, who discovered that. When astronomer Harlow Shapley discovered that the solar system is not at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, this was again a human discovery. And when Edwin Hubble discovered that there are many galaxies like ours, and the universe has no center, this was a further expansion of our mind’s horizons.
The final duet will reflect the realization that even though our physical existence has been continuously diminished, we are, in some sense, central to the cosmos, in the fact that it was us, humans, who discovered step by step all of this grandeur. The Hubble ends with it crashing in the ocean.