The Canticle of the Black Madonna – What the War Left Behind

Getting back to a normal life after time on the battlefield has always been a challenge for soldiers. Movies, books, and TV have been approaching the issue, but it has rarely been presented on stage.

With The Canticle of the Black Madonna, composer Ethan Gans-Morse brings the struggle of a veteran of the war in Afghanistan closer to the audience through art, music, literature, and poetry. The Canticle of the Black Madonna is an opera-oratorio featuring six principal characters, a chorus, a large chamber orchestra, and elaborate masks and costumes.

Set in Louisiana in 2010, this potent story chronicles the journey of an American soldier returning from Afghanistan with PTSD who struggles with his shattered soul, his strained marriage, and the crumbling U.S. economy in the wake of the Gulf Oil Spill. The story also details the courageous sacrifices of the soldier’s wife, as she stands by the man she loves while facing an ecological disaster that radically changes their lives.

Through a rich combination of modern opera and ancient oratorio, The Canticle of the Black Madonna reveals the healing power of their encounter with an ancient, primal force of divine love, represented by the Black Madonna, who transforms them both forever and touches all who witness it.

“Simply put, this project is our personal contribution to restoring balance to a society that feels increasingly out of touch with its own soldiers and with its own motivations for war,” stated composer Ethan Gans-Morse. “When civilian society refuses to accept the emotional burden of our nation’s wars, when we are unable to take on the guilt and shame that results from the horrors of war, then we condemn our veterans to shoulder that burden alone.”

The Canticle of the Black Madonna also features sixteen unique handmade masks and 30 handmade costumes that make the opera a remarkable piece of art.

The opera will premiere on Saturday, Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m. in Beall Concert Hall at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance. To get more information about The Canticle of the Black Madonna, please visit its official website at

The Canticle of the Black Madonna Trailer from Ethan Gans-Morse on Vimeo.

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