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Helen's Aria

Acrylic on paper, 50 x 76 cm. 2023.

This painting is my visual impression of the aria 'Let her rave' from Michael Tippett's opera King Priam. Each of Tippett's operas is punctuated by a single noticeably darker, more mysterious female aria, which always cuts to the moral foundations of his conception. In this case, the adulterous Helen is being rebuked by her lover's sister-in-law Andromache, who blames her for starting the war that has led to the downfall of Troy. Helen responds decisively, becoming loquacious for the first and only time in the opera; she reveals the truth of her semi-divine nature, terrifying in its intensity and inhumanity. As the music swirls around Helen's piercing voice, an abyss seems to open momentarily in the fabric of the opera, rendering futile and childlike the hopes and fears of the mortal participants.

Let her rave. I, Helen, am untouched.

She cannot know me, what I am.
Once as I came along the walls, the old men spoke of me, for so I heard:
'No wonder Greeks and Trojans go to war for such a woman.'

And they spoke well.
For I am Zeus’ daughter, conceived when the great wings beat above Leda.

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