Center for Sacred Psychology

Soul Food Archive: Our Symbolic World

Main Courses are offered on a frequently changing menu. Here are words and images to ingest and digest for inner nourishment. We hope these hearty meals invite you to taste and savor, to muse, reflect and remember, to journal, to create art...that is, to feast on food for the spirit.

Pascha #2, by Archimandrite Kiprian,
Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY*

Our current main course, below, is just one of several Soul Food offerings. Please visit, also, our buffet of Guest Caterer Specials and, for lighter fare, our Desserts & Snacks counter. And, to sample earlier menus, we hope you'll check out the Soul Food Archive. Like all who prepare foodstuffs, we hope to hear from those we serve! Space to leave comments, or read others' comments, on our cuisine follows each Soul Food offering.





Opera? no thanks!

That long-hair music is so stuffy…

Well, not really... In the years when most of the standard repertory was composed, opera was part of the life of the people. Tunes were hummed on the street, played in parlors, further popularized by filmmakers, figure skaters, cartoon characters, t.v. commercials, and in many other ways. (Victor Juhasz, the artist who created this drawing, apparently thinks you can have fun with opera!*)

Why bother?

One reason: because of all the many forms of music, few rival opera as purveyors of the most basic human conditions—that is, archetypal people and situations.  (Well, country music may come in second—at a stretch.)  Are many opera plots two-dimensional?  Yes (which is why “opera” is a term used for other formula storytelling: horse opera, space opera, soap opera).  But, coupled with magnificent music, the power of the archetypal scenes and characters on the operatic stage can cut to our hearts as no other music can.  So many are stories of the soul.  

So, she’s begging him to have pity, and he’s saying “Enough,” and there’s a bloody dagger on the floor!  Cheesy?  In a silent film, perhaps, but not when set to gorgeous music.  Engaged by their story in song for a couple of hours, we’re touched within about the times we’ve begged for pity, been told “Enough!”—and, maybe, coped with domestic tragedy.  And lots of people die in opera; sometimes the body count as the last curtain goes down is unbelievable!  Music lifts these human situations to a different plane, into high relief, helping us get distance from parallel siituations in our lives—or anticipate them vicariously.  Music as healer—a concept as old as Pythagorus in the 6th century B.C.E.  

Conversely, the music and plots of many operas open doors we’ve yet to recognize in our own lives.  In the operatic repertory, one dives deeply into concepts of good vs. evil, spirit vs. matter, heroism and cowardice, fidelity and betrayal, sacrifice, abandonment, redemption, exile, sanctity and the seven deadly sins aplenty.  

Carl Jung writes,

Art is the mouthpiece of the secrets of the psyche.

I can’t get past the idea of opera as an outmoded art form.

Are you picturing singers from a hundred years ago, who—by our standards—certainly look outdated?  Here’s Louise Homer of Pittsburg, a famous contralto dressed for her Met debut role, the Princess Amneris in Verdi’s Aïda.*  Would you bet that, as she pleaded on her knees with the priests of ancient Egypt not to seal the man she loves in a tomb (especially one containing her rival), the audience cared little or nothing about her stature?  The music, and the singer’s voice, were what counted.  But this was then—and singers’ costumes now are more flattering, their acting skills more finely honed.

Or, maybe you’re thinking of operatic characters such kings and queens, colonial soldiers, prisoners in dungeons, forged documents, mad scenes, flag-waving, executions—the stuff of swashbuckler movies, or fairy tale characters, ghosts, Teutonic and Greek divinities. Yes, there are plenty of all these on the operatic boards, but also a wealth of ordinary folk in verismo operas, and contemporary topics too: the visit of Richard Nixon to China, the story of Mohandas Gandhi, the creation of the atom bomb, so much else.  And some set designers like to move an old story forward in time—which may or may not work.

I’m a fan of many forms of music, but have never sampled opera.  Where do I start?

Speaking of fun, how about finding A Night at the Opera, the zany 1935 Marx Brothers movie that showcases Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore!  Or, if you like mysteries, how about Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)?  (The music in this film was composed just for the screen; Boris Karloff is the devilish villain.)  How about the 1942 Phantom of the Opera, with live opera stagings?  Or more recently, The Shawshank Redemption (1994)?  And don’t forget Moonstruck (1987). 

Or, go straight to the source: the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts live Saturday matinees on radio (1:00 p.m.EST) from December through the spring. (We’re on the west coast, so 10:00 a.m., or sometimes earlier for long operas; in Los Angeles, on KUSC-fm, 91.5.  We’re fortunate here, also, to have Duff Murphy’s opera show the rest of the year at this and other times.)  Satellite broadcasts and computer hook-ups are available; the Met broadcasts are international; they’ve been opening listeners’ ears and hearts since 1931.  

Of course, you can go to the opera if there are performances nearby—or, see live performances via telecasts at local theatres around the globe.  Web searches under “opera” will reveal what’s available and affordable.  Many recommend “the old warhorses” for beginners: operas that have engaged people for a hundred years, are still thrilling and filled with beautiful music. 


These are often Puccini or Verdi operas or, from the French repertory, Faust and Carmen among others.  There’s opera in Russian and Czech and English, as well, and even some Sanskrit—something for everyone. 

There are opera DVDs aplenty: filmings of performances, or operas filmed specifically as movies.  These show up on television and elsewhere.  Find a favorite artist and follow his or her interpretations of different roles.  Whose voice touches your heart?  Who knows!—you may find yourself drawn to the growing ranks of “opera cuckoos” (passionate fans of all ages and stripes, who love to argue over their favorite artists, or the wisdom of updating an opera’s setting from, say, the 16th century to the 21st).




Tell me again, what has this to do with the spiritual life?

George Bernard Shaw has an answer for us

You use a mirror to show your face—and works of art to show your soul.


We're interested in ways this Soul Food may have touched your life.

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Read Others' Comments...


To the Center. How right you are about opera. I grew up in the Canadian backwoods, but we had a wireless--and every Saturday morning, my parents stopped everything to "go to the opera." They even dressed up for this occasion. And we kids could either join them very quietly, or play outside--as long as we didn't interrupt the music or the between-the-acts commentary. I learned about passion, heroism, treachery, history, and a wealth of foreign lands from ancient China to the American gold country...and, as you write, because of the music, these topics were elevated to the archetypal level. Thanks to the Met for the broadcasts, which changed my life, and to you for this essay.
George K.
Toronto, Canada




* Credits for this page:

~ Pascha #2 by Archimandrite Kiprian, Holy Trinity Icon Studio, Jordanville, NY
A family in old Russia welcomes visitors with special Pascha (Easter) treats. Gratefully used with permission from Holy Trinity Icon Studio, Jordanville, NY, 13361. This excellent website is the source for inexpensive traditional icon prints and mounted icons.
~ Valkyrie and Sigmund Freud illustration by Victor Juhasz from “Opera on the Couch” (Kent Jarratt in Opera News, September 1999, p.48ff.)  Picture used with kind permission of the artist.
~ From I Pagliacci (1892 première), the clown Canio in costume; from a 2005 production of Sarasota Opera, FL; photo: Debra Hesser.
~ Louise Homer’s picture from The Victor Book of the Opera, 5th ed. (Camden, NJ: Victor Talking Machine Co., 1919).
~ Piano scores for Verdi operas, from his famous Milanese publisher, G.Ricordi: Aïda,1872 and Rigoletto,1851.