chamber opera by


VITA NOVA is a contemporary chamber opera by the Greek-Dutch composer Calliope Tsoupaki for solo voice, baroque violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord. The opera was developed in collaboration with the Dutch visual artist Berend Strik, who also designed the set and the costumes.

Vita Nova is based on the book 'La Vita Nuova' by Dante Alighieri (1293). This autobiographic book consists of thirty one poems and commentaries about the poems, in which Dante relates the history of his love for Beatrice.

The central theme of the opera is the emotional hardship of becoming an artist and the development - through experiences of love and death - towards this stage. Following Dante’s story - where in order to join the 'Fideli d’Amore', a group of poets who wrote poems in the tradition of courtly love and erotic spirituality, he begins singing and subliming his love for Beatrice - the opera deals with the strive for artistic expression and recognition, and the processes of idealization in art as well as in love.
The opera explores the theme of courtly love, its development and its conventions, all which culminated and came to an end with Dante’s poetry.
The work also relates to the first operas by Monteverdi. Dante’s text, which consists of both prose and poetry, serves as the perfect ground for the composer to explore the form of Monteverdi’s operas, using speech, recitativi and arias, which all flow in and out of each other in an organic way, and create a 'drama per musica'. The prose in Dante's book, in its descriptive form, its various ways of narration, confessions of deep emotions and thoughts, makes a perfect text for the progress of the action in the opera, while his poems, are a perfect form for writing arias. Dante’s text, particularly the way he describes his ecstatic experiences and the way he becomes unable to continue with his daily tasks and gets trapped in his visionary world, serve as a good form on which to base ecstatic musical moments. His love is the vehicle through which we are carried to our ideal world and our dreams..

The visual artist Berend Strik – who in his work frequently stages dramas, using textile, embroidery and pornography – explores and expresses the themes of the opera with a new perspective. He has designed five special dresses for the singer. These dresses are an organic part of the drama -the dresses and their peeling will refer to the emotional hardships and the process of becoming an artist, the way to a 'pure' body and a pure state of singing.
A minimal choreography, in consistence with the atmosphere of Monteverdi's operas, was created by Indian choreographer Padma Menon.
The premiere and first performances took place in the Korzo Theatre with later performances throughout The Netherlands, including in the Gaudeamus music-theater festival in May 2004.

Music: Calliope Tsoupaki
Concept: Calliope Tsoupaki and Ayelet Harpaz
Director, stage design and costumes: Berend Strik
Choreography: Padma Menon
Voice: Ayelet Harpaz
Violin: Anna McMichael
Viola da gamba: Ricardo Rodriguez Miranda
Harpsichord: Vincent Ranger
Production: Korzo Theater/ Gaudeamus Center for Contemporary Music

6th May 2004, Try-out, Korzo, The Hague
7th May 2004, Premiere, Korzo, The Hague
8th May 2004, Korzo, The Hague
11th May 2004, Grand Theater, Groningen
15th May 2004, Frascati, Amsterdam (Gaudeamus Music-Theater Festival)
29th May 2004, St. Janskerk, Maastricht
2nd Dec 2004, Korzo, The Hague
4th Dec 2004, Lantaren/Venster, Rotterdam
18th May 2006, Dom Musici, Moscow
Spring 2008, Tel-Aviv, Israel

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COURTLY LOVE, fin amour, as a literary phenomenon, reflects one of the most far-reaching revolutions in social sensibility and expression in Western culture. Fin amour provided Europe with a refined and elevated language with which to describe the phenomenology of love. It was also a significant factor in the augmented social role of women, and changed the role they partook in the male imagination. One can assume that the aristocratic men and women of the middle Ages began to act out in their own love life the pattern of courtly behavior they read about in the fictional romances and love lyrics of the period. Thus women became more than just beloved objects -haughty, demanding, mysterious; they became, in a very real sense, what they have remained ever since, the chief arbiters of the game of love and the impresarios of refined passion.
In the beginning of this movement even women had a part in creating these ideas, and expressed themselves through very carnal and erotic poetry, directed towards their courtly lovers.
The Troubadours also created a new concept of the individual. Before their time the idea of the human person was thought of strictly in relation to the institutions of society and the church. For the first time the ‘I - thou' relation between two human persons became a value in itself and with it the intrinsic value of the human personality. The act of loving was in itself ennobling and refining, the means to the fullest expression of what was potentially fine and elevated in human nature.

In 1209 – the Albigensian crusade put a stop to liberal Occitan culture and the art of the Troubadours. Courtly love was regarded as heresy by the inquisition founded on Toulouse. Many troubadours went into exile (mostly to Italy and Spain), and those who stayed either fell silent or changed the identity of their lady – the new one being the Virgin Mary. Thus, the lady, the idea of her as a symbol, survived the crusade.

The Fedeli d'Amore were a group of poets practicing an erotic form of spirituality, which can be seen as an application of chivalric ideas (including courtly love) to the regeneration of society. They formed a closed brotherhood devoted to achieving a harmony between the sexual and emotional sides of their natures and their intellectual and mystical aspirations. The Fedeli were expected to write only about their own mystical experiences, so actual practice was mandatory, and they apparently had a system of degrees representing the levels of spiritual progress.
In 1283 Dante attempted to contact the group by addressing a poem to them. In it he described a dream of his in which Amor (Love) appeared to him, holding a lady in his arms, and he invited the Fedeli to interpret the vision. It begins:

'To every heart which the sweet pain doth move,
And unto which these words may now be brought
For true interpretation and kind thought,
Be greeting in our Lord's name, which is Love.'

This is the first sonnet in ‘La Vita Nuova’. Several people responded to Dante's challenge, including Guido Cavalcanti, and he was subsequently invited to join the Fedeli d'Amore.

'La Vita Nuova' covers seventeen years of Dante's life, and arises from his memory of eleven encounters with Beatrice - some real encounters and some oineiric, fantastic or mystical. Dante brings up these encounters and submits them to analysis and reflection in persuit of their ultimate meaning and significance, which eventually will ennoble the poet's character and spirit, and redirect them towards his proper future and a creation of a new kind of poetry.
Dante's book is the first autobiography in any vernacular literature, and is a revolutionary document in western civilazation's development of vernacular poetry and concerts of Love. Dante's work draws on Love as the spring of knowledge and on a Lady who is both physical and spiritual, and who is the real, rational and miraculous guide to Love and ultimately to God. The 'La Vita Nuova' unites Love, poetry, knowledge, wisdom and faith into a single harmonious text that depicts a life and love in harmony with the universe.