james (book of ruth): by Steven Serpa

An oratorio of hope for World AIDS Day



The challenges of living with HIV/AIDS have changed since the fateful 80s and 90s when significant populations of the gay community were eradicated and deeply affected by the deadliness of the disease. Today the Center for Disease Control says that the epidemic has been largely minimized in most of the USA, due mostly to medicines that suppress the virus from reproducing itself in the body–even preventatively. While death is not on the doorstep of someone who contracts HIV today, the stigma of the virus may have profound impacts on their private and public lives, causing many who have HIV/AIDS to live closeted or shame-filled lives, especially in close relationships. To that end, the Co-Artistic Directors of Chorosynthesis Singers (Wendy Moy and Jeremiah Selvey) set out to commission a dramatic work that highlights that stigma in comparison with the death-sentence of the 80’s and 90’s in narrative form. 

Jeremiah and Wendy were deeply moved by the exquisite counterpoint and harmonic sound-world of Steven Serpa’s Like Darling: A Triptych for A Cappella Voices (premiered by Chorosynthesis Singers in 2016), which Steven composed as a response to terrorism around the globe. When they approached Steven about composing a dramatic work about HIV/AIDS, he sought out librettist Zac Kline. Zac’s monologue tribute to the Orlando shooting at Pulse Nightclub, had gone viral, and Steven felt that Zac’s voice would be perfect in the creation of the libretto. The result of that partnership is james (book of ruth).

Synopsis: James’s upbringing was religiously conservative, and he had to learn to live with the stigma associated with being gay. Because of the support of his partner and the new community he found, he was able to get through the pain and suffering his family and religious community caused by their stigma. Little did he understand the depth of pain caused by his mother’s rejection–her inability to hold him because he was “positive.” When she insists on repentance so she can hold him and when his partner dies of AIDS, he encounters another mother figure (Ruth) and begins looking for a new outlook on life. The transformation of James through his partner’s love and through the wisdom and commitment of Ruth will inspire us all.

The hope James experiences in the face of incredible loss and stigma is universally applicable, and in this way, we continue “Empowering Silenced Voices.” We hope–by the powerful music, libretto, and excellent performance–to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS and to bring hope to all living in any sort of psychological pain.

james (book of ruth)
a dramatic oratorio for soprano, mezzo-soprano, and baritone with chorus of mixed voices and chamber ensemble

by Steven Serpa
libretto by Zac Kline

performed by
Chorosynthesis Singers
Wendy Moy and Jeremiah Selvey, Co-Artistic Directors/Co-Conductors
Stephen Lancaster, Baritone (James)

Santa Monica College
December 1, 2018 (World AIDS Day)
The Eli & Edythe Broad State, Santa Monica, California
Other Artists-in-Residence Activities in the SMC Music Department: Lectures, Masterclasses, Workshops