OK, so who’s the protagonist (good guy-hero) in Iscariot? Maybe that’s a question on your mind because Judas would have to be the antagonist (bad guy-villain). He’s kind of the ultimate antagonist, right? It’s a serious writing problem… and a musical one too. And you can’t just say that the protagonist is Jesus. Then it’s not a story about Judas. So, for all of you who may or may not be interested, there are three solutions I have played with.
Think Moby Dick. He’s the monster that has to be slain. But he can only be slain by another monster or monstrous character: Captain Ahab. My three plot solutions…
1) The struggle between monsters in my opera libretto can be a struggle inside Judas. I would portray his toxic ambition like an impersonal, dangerous addiction. We can all relate to this, and it fits my dad’s business worldview. However, my only option here is to “invent” a back story that imagines things not reported in Scripture and highlights an endearingly good side of Judas so that we see a Dr. Jeckyl versus Mr. Hyde thing going on. Interesting. Difficult.
2) Or I can make John and James co-protagonists (is that even a thing?) and set the story up as a struggle between normal (holy?) ambition that can be developed versus unholy ambition that can’t. This seems a little easier to write and scares me less. Maybe not as interesting.
3) Or I can personify ambition itself as the antagonist (not Judas) who then takes Judas’ soul and life (like Satan or a demon would), but then who loses to and is destroyed by John and James because of their relationship with Jesus. This rings true and has potential. These two would, of course, be the protagonists here as well. (Maybe just pick one, right? That’s a lot of tenors.)
You see? This is why my dusty, dated project, along with many others, has been buried so long in my drawer with only a worldwide pandemic to dig it out. I know others of us feel this way about our life’s undone work. Life buries the plans we have for it by being… well… life. Life gets complicated by life. This is what life is like. Maybe this is why the clarifying (toxic) ambition of a character like Star Wars’ Emperor Palpatine plays so well in our culture. We get it. We seriously get the appeal. We want those dramatic results, the short-term ones anyway.
- The protagonist, regardless, has to be the hero, and you need a hero and a hero arc, especially for an opera. You need this in life too, no matter who you are. Judas and Satan both saw themselves as heroes as we read about them in the Gospels. (The best antagonists in any literature never see themselves as the villains they are!)
- I have two other fiction projects that are not tied to music (thank God!) and are much farther (or is it further) along (thanks to Scrivener). I’m not letting anyone know about them. Iscariot is an idea I’m trying to raise from the dead. Actual living ideas would not get this attention. It would kill them.
- The irony does not escape me. I am trying to summon or rekindle the ambition to write a piece about (and against) ambition. Ambition is a tricky thing. It can be dangerous and dull at the same time. Most toxically ambitious people any of us know are dangerous for a minute and dull for eternity. The 10th commandment was not an afterthought.
- I long ago quit on some big creative projects. I daily see and hear things in life that whip my attention away from restarting them. There are millions of wannabe writers and composers like me in the world. Steven Pressfield in “The War of Art” is correct (and brutal) when he speaks about the real enemy of all art, something he calls Resistance. It’s the enemy of any “Art of Christian Living” too in my opinion.
- I just want to do ALL my real work. Is this how life is making you feel these days? Some of it for me, besides ministry and the military, involves music paper. Some of it also involves wall paper! (Frightening!)
- Thank you for a few of you (one actually) saying you want to hear Iscariot when it’s done. So far, however, it’s not very good and nowhere near done. Regardless, I feel driven to finish it. And I think this is where many of us find ourselves in life today due to COVID-19. It’s not about results anymore, it’s about the process. This is, in fact, what Judas missed. He thought life was about what you win and who you beat. But Jesus teaches us that life is more about what you give and who you help. So, if my opera (it’s really a musical) never gets done (though I am committed to finishing it) maybe my writing about it here can help you write yours. This verse encourages me…
Acts 20:24 – But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
What is it God is calling you to finish? Do you have writing or building to do? Do you have school to go back to? Is your work in Christ parenting, but your children are grown and long gone? Is your work ministry of some kind? Is your work a new business that you know will bless customers and employees alike? If God started something in your life, even if it was 50, 60, 70 years ago, He meant it. Even if it was 50, 60, 70 days ago too. Finishing our work is about more than our work, it’s about our testimony. Isn’t Acts 20:24 a relief to read when talking about ambition? I agree.