Monday night was three hours of raw emotion at Opera Australia‘s Aïda. We’ve only been to a couple of operas but we love the way opera captures the ebb and flow of emotions in all their unbridled power!
Aïda and Radamès are crazy about each other. Problem 1: She’s an Ethiopian slave girl and he’s an Egyptian military commander. Problem 2: The Egyptian princess, Amneris, loves Radamès. Problem 3: Unknown to the Egyptians, Aïda is the Ethiopian princess, so that both Aïda and Radamès have deep loyalties to their peoples. Solution: The couple will do anything for love. Even before their lives are in danger, both Radamès and Aïda declare that they are ready to die for love.
The Hebrew Song of Songs also has an uncompromising vision of love:
Place me like a seal over your heart
Like a seal on your arm
For love is as strong as death
Its jealousy unyielding as the grave
It burns like blazing fire
Like a mighty flame
Many waters cannot quench love
Rivers cannot sweep it away
If one were to give
All the wealth of one’s house for love
It would be utterly scorned.
Song of Songs 8:6-7
Like the Song of Songs, Aïda presents love as strong as death and unyielding as the grave. The opera ends with Radamès and Aïda buried alive, dying in each other’s arms.
Unlike the Song, however, Aïda has an end to its love. Even though Aïda declares that the couple’s love will continue forever in heaven, Radamès and Aïda die. I wonder if that’s how all great love stories end — with an ending. From Romeo and Juliet to The Notebook, a love as strong as death always seems to end in death.
The Song has a subtle but distinctive refusal to acknowledge death. Through a series of poetic devices, the Song takes a cyclical rather than linear shape, presenting love as timeless yet immediate, and constantly in progress.* The Song moves in an upward spiral of desire and satisfaction but this finds no closure. For example, the Song begins with its characters already in motion and has no real ending, instead recapitulating the image of the gazelle (2:17), an ambiguous verse in which the woman could be either beckoning the man or sending him away. Yet this lack of closure is not unrequited love but an unending pursuit. The Song’s love is always in forward motion, a love that seeks ever greater heights of love, a love that cannot be thwarted even by death. This is love caught up in relationship with the Creator of love.
While Aïda ends with a faint hope of ‘heavenly’ love, the Song displays a love that death can’t get a grip on.
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* This is based on Cheryl Exum’s reading.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.