Thomas Sleeper: Aceldama



“Aceldama,” Greek for “field of blood,” appears in reference to the field where Cain slew Abel in the first recorded homicide (in fact, fratricide) of the Judeo-Christian tradition. “Aceldama” is sometimes also used to describe the field where Judas committed suicide after his betrayal of Christ. The opera “Aceldama” was commissioned by, and is dedicated to, artist Joe Nicastri. The work is scored for four soloists (soprano, two tenors and baritone), chorus and orchestra and lasts approximately 65 minutes.

“Aceldama” is based on the story of Cain and Abel, and takes this tragedy through the ages to the Nazi Germany death camps and beyond. Three parts are joined to form one act. Part I takes place in the time of Cain and Abel. Part II and III take place in the 1940's, with the final scene projecting surrealistically into the present and future. Elements are fused from accounts of the Holocaust, Jewish and Christian texts, the Upanishads, the Arthurian legend, Dante's Inferno, and the Faust legend among other sources.

Part I

The birth of Cain and Abel and the differences in the sacrifices each can offer. Eve questions why God will not accept Cain's sacrifices and Adam offers his explanation. Cain tries variations on the sacrifices from his crops including the fashioning of a homunculus from vegetation. All of his attempts are rejected. In profound despair, the answer comes to Cain in a vision and he slays his brother Abel. A Litany of Fratricide is taken on by the chorus as they surround the audience with their accusations. An orchestral interlude follows that interlaces a mournful chorale played by string quartet with two medieval melodies (Douce dame, L'Homme armé) while the Horst Wessel Song (the Nazi Hymn) is interjected. At the conclusion of this, we are shown a simple set in the 1940's.

Part II: Scene 1

1940's. Adam and Eve's apartment. They are packing for the relocation. Adam, wanting to believe in the future, brings up the question of an ornate chalice he wants to take with them. Eve harbors no illusions and has no motivation to bring anything - she is convinced that they are going to be killed. After an unsuccessful attempt at consolation, Adam is spurned, and talks of Eve's grip on his heart, and his inability to move other than in the direction in which he is pointed. References are made not only to the medieval Arthurian myth but also to that of Creation and the forming of Eve from a rib. His passionate appeal to Eve for their renewal is rejected out of hand by a flat “I cannot risk bringing another into this place, it is unclean.” The steam and whistle of a freight train is heard from behind the audience. The apartment set pulls apart to reveal a concentration camp.

Part II: Scene 2

Auschwitz. The chorus streams in from the back of the auditorium, as prisoners arriving at the death camp. A quartet of prisoners is brought out to play salon music (from Lehar's “The Merry Widow”) to pacify and deceive the new arrivals. Cain is a Nazi camp officer directing the new arrivals left or right as they enter the stage depending on their status (labor/immediate death). He complains of his wound that will not heal and its relationship to his brother. His brother has been “relocated”(“...I should not be blamed...”) and grabbing one of the condemned women, Cain tells the story of dancing with his brother's girl and hearing voices the night of the relocation. The prisoners and guards (except Cain and the woman) scatter from the stage as if in response to an air raid. A pedal point begins to emanate from the orchestra overwhelming the Lehar and the next scene begins with a sharp orchestral explosion of sound. The set once again pulls apart, revealing three large screens showing black and white images of places of desecration before, during and after the Holocaust.

Part II: Scene 3

Cain with woman prisoner held tightly in his arms in front of screens. Surrealistic scene. Escalating cacophony of sounds including, the orchestra, chorus, voices form the pit and offstage band. Offstage brass band plays the Nazi hymn...voices are heard from the pit. “Auschwitz — How long, O Lord, dost thou not avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth...” half-chanted, overlapping, growing in intensity and climbing in voices heard/half-heard in the wind. “Aceldama, Aceldama, Aceldama” is intoned three times by the chorus from backstage. (voices from the pit are more and more prominent throughout this — chant evolves to surging wails). After the third iteration of “Aceldama” — An overpowering voice demands “Where is your brother? What have you done? The blood of your brother cries out to me from the ground!” Suddenly these sounds are shut off — like a door slammed shut. Very quiet, high shimmering metallic sounds of bells and glass chimes remain and a Dies Irae is heard from offstage. In response from the pit: “Buchenwald solvent ex favilla, Auschwitz solvent ex favilla” (Buchenwald dissolve in ashes, etc.) etc. In silence, Cain drags the woman off stage. A reflective orchestral interlude follows.

PART III: Scene 1

Adam/Amfortas. All is overcast with the dark glow and smoke from the ovens. Adam is searching for Eve and encounters another prisoner (Cain as Amfortis) complaining of a wound. A duet ensues in which Adam recognizes Cain and accuses him of atrocities. Cain/Amfortas holds a mirror to Adam's face and shows him that the person he recognizes, is himself. When Adam asks about Eve, Cain/Amfortas gestures strongly to the pillars of smoke from the ovens. Adam screams at the dual recognition of his own complicity and Eve's destruction. An orchestral interlude follows in which Adam nears madness in the stark reality of his new identity. He is Christ, who was always Job, who was always Abel, who was always Adam, who was always Cain, who was always Amfortas, who was always God.

PART III: Scene 2

Adam's Lament. Adam laments the loss of Eve and recounts their life together in relation to the ash on his shoulders, “...and now you are spiraling away from me in a flume of heated ash - was it always like that?” Adam,(now Amfortas/Cain) with references to the Arthurian legend, reflects on his unhealing wound, “ ... my wound does not heal and I am death denied...”

PART III: Scene 3

Adam/Job. An encounter ensues between God (the chorus) and Adam, which recalls the story of Job. References are made to the Creation, to the formation of Eve and the curiosity of Longinus. Accusations and doubts are cast as to who created and abandoned whom and then ...with enlightenment, the wound begins to heal. Adam realizes that with the healing of the wound he is responsible for his own actions and that he (God/Adam/Cain/Amfortas/Job) has been liberated and allowed to die - ie. given back his life, ability to make choices - to live like an animal - as part of nature rather than as Nietzche's superman.. He collapses into the crowd and the opera ends with a powerful orchestral postlude.


Aceldama is a surrealistic work concerned with the concepts of free will and responsibility. The story weaves itself loosely around the Biblical account of Cain and Abel. While there is not a traditional plot, there is the thread of historical and literary characters interacting throughout time in a progression that takes us from fratricide to homicide, genocide and ultimately suicide. Over all of this is an examination of the relationship between man's spiritual and chthonic selves and how this understanding affects our choices and their consequences. The final quote from the Upanishads summarizes the entire work.

As the same fire assumes different shapes when

it consumes objects differing in form,

So does the one take the shape of every creature

in whom it is present.

As your desire is, so is your will

As your will is, so is your deed

As your deed is, so is your destiny.

Adam and Eve can be thought of in the Jungian terms of anima and animus1. Their relationship is that of the mysterium coniunctionis2. The offspring (Cain and Abel) become a second layer of this differentiation and in fact are the two representatives of the chthonic world. They, unlike their parents, are direct descendants of the earth and seek spiritual connection through devotional sacrifice. Abel functions in the world like Adam. Neither creates, both are destroyers of life (necessary to sustain life) while Cain proceeds like Eve, nurturing the earth and bringing forth crops - a creator. Together, these characters represent the fundamental facets of the archetypical human.

When Cain slays Abel, he has crossed over into a foreign world. Cain, no longer able to follow his nature, becomes an aberration. He is neither Cain nor Abel, neither Adam nor Eve.

Adam, through Cain, follows a circuitous path (Adam, Cain, Amfortas, Job) that leads him back to his creator. In the violent confrontation between God and Adam (who now mostly resembles Job) at the end of the opera, the circle is closed as God and Adam are one. God appears as a dissociated personality - juvenal and completely non-reflective in its omnipotence - essentially self-blind. The fact that this personality is omnipotent and omniscient puts it in the position that essentially precludes it seeing himself 3. God, incapable of seeing himself, requires the worship of man to prove his own existence. Adam (now as Job), his most faithful servant and original creation combined, calls God into question. This wreaks psychic havoc. The chorus (as God) sings in undulating heterophony and polyphony portraying the disassociated or psychotic state of the creator spiritus.

See how you have failed to nurture

what I have given you?

You have laid waste the lands

You have slain Abel from generation to generation

I have given you free will so that your worship might be sincere and you have abandoned me.

All this I have done for you —

Your very breath is my breath and you abandon me!

Only Adam can “see” God for what “he is”. Whereas Job at this point had “placed his hand upon his mouth” - Adam speaks out defining the moment.

You seem to have forgotten,

I didn't come here in the swollen wonder of spring —

I arrived on the echoes of winter

with hoar-frost in my beard and scarlet thorns

about my tenderbruised heart.

It was I created you —

your very breath is my breath!

Like Amfortas in the preceding scene, Adam symbolically holds the mirror up to God through his words. It is a new kind of worship. Adam is made whole through this realization and the “wound of Amfortis” begins to heal. The “mark of Cain” is removed. “Adam” ceases to exist from that point. The circle is completed as god and man are one. The created is the creator.

1 The Collected Works of Carl G. Jung, Vol. 8, Translated by R.F.C. Hull. Bollinger Series XX. Princeton University.

2 Ibid. Vol. 14, chapter 5.

3 Ibid. Vol. 11, Answer to Job.

—Thomas M. Sleeper

Thomas Barrett

In a review of a production of Die Zauberflöte at The Santa Fe Opera, The New York Times commented, “Thomas Barrett was a dominating Papageno, vocally as well as dramatically.”

Considered to be one of the premier emerging baritones of his generation, Mr. Barrett has performed leading roles internationally for the opera companies in Santa Fe, Düsseldorf, San Francisco, Saint Louis, Dallas, Atlanta, Charlotte, Omaha, Kansas City, Chautauqua, Detroit, Boston, Miami, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Nashville, and Milwaukee, in such roles as title role in Don Giovanni, Marcello in La Bohème, Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro, Malatesta in Don Pasquale, Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, The High Priest in Samson et Dalila, Lescaut in Manon, Guglielmo in Cosi Fan Tutte, and Escamillo in Carmen, among others.

Equally at home on the concert stage, Mr. Barrett has performed as a soloist with, among others, The Houston Symphony, The Minnesota Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, The Toronto Symphony, The Virginia Symphony, Roanoke Symphony, Wichita Symphony, Charleston Symphony, Sioux City Symphony, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic, The Bach Society of Saint Louis, and The Louisville Bach Society in such masterworks as the Requiems of Brahms, Duruflé, Mozart, and Fauré, Handel's Messiah, Haydn's Creation, The Missa Solemnis and Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, the B Minor Mass, St. John and St. Matthew Passions of Bach, and Mendelssohn's Elijah. Mr. Barrett also maintains an active schedule as a recital artist throughout the United States.

Thomas Barrett received his undergraduate musical training in Vocal Performance at The Indiana University School of Music, where he studied with the late legendary Basso Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, and his wife, renowned soprano Virginia Zeani. He then completed advanced vocal studies at the Juilliard School in New York City, where he was a graduate of the Julliard Opera Center, studying voice with Edward Zambara and Trish McCaffrey. He attended The Music Academy of the West where he was honored by winning the Lotte Lehmann Award, as well as being a winner in the concerto competition. He was the recipient of the Sullivan Foundation Award, as well as the Richard Gaddes Award from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, in addition to winning prizes in several other voice competitions.

Mr. Barrett currently resides in Miami, FL with his wife, Mezzo Soprano Angela Horn.

Sandra Lopez

Sandra Lopez joined the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at the beginning of the 2000-2001 season after being selected as a winner of the 1997 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. This season she appeared as Violetta Valery in La Traviata in Valencia, Spain, and as Micaëla in Carmen with Opera North. She has appeared as Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore with both El Paso and Amarillo Opera, and during the 1998-99 season sang Adele in Die Fledermaus with Palm Beach Opera and Gilda in Rigoletto with Opera North. With the University of Miami Opera Theater, she sang Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi, Nannetta in Falstaff, and the title role of Manon. She was a world finalist in the Luciano Pavarotti Competition, a national Finalist in the MacAllister Awards and an Educational Grant Recipient with the George London Foundation.

David Crawford

David Crawford is a native of Philadelphia and completed his Bachelor of Music degree at Temple University which was followed by a full scholarship to The Curtis Institute of Music from which he graduated with a Master of Music in Opera. His engagements and guest contracts have been at the Staatstheatern Stuttgart, Hannover, Wiesbaden, Karlsruhe, Grand Theatre du Bordeaux, National Theater Mannheim, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Opera Theater, Washington, Enschede, Dublin, Luebeck, Kassel, Aachen, Heidelberg, Klagenfurt and many others. He has performed with such orchestras as The Philadelphia Orchestra, Orchestra de Colonne, Franco Allemagne Philharmonique, Orchestra der Stadt Heidelberg and the Ensemble Bach de Paris. His list of operatic roles is long: Rodolpho, Hoffman, Tito, Faust, Don Jose, Tamino, Pinkerton, Cavaradossi, Alfredo, Alfred, Werther, Edgardo, Duca,...he has sung more than 20 leading roles on the operatic stages.

Mr. Crawford has been competition winner or finalist in the following: Mario Lanza Competition (1st prize in 1979 & 1981), Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions-Regional Finalist, Philadelphia Orchestra Student Soloist Competition, Giuseppe DiStefano Competition, Luciano Pavarotti Competition, International Belvedere Competition-Public Prize and Mozart Opera Prize, Third Concours Offenbach in Paris and Special Prize of the Jury for Hoffman.

Russell Thomas

Tenor Russell Thomas has recently completed his training at the Florida Grand Opera's “Young Artist Studio.” A native of South Florida, Mr. Thomas attended the New World School of the Arts for his undergraduate studies. At the New World School the tenor performed the role of Alfred in Die Fledermaus, as well as several roles in scene programs including Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, the title role in Faust, Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, among others. In the past 2 years, Mr. Thomas has performed with several regional opera companies throughout the country, most notably Opera North, Sarasota Opera and Opera Theatre of St. Louis. At the latter he understudied the role of To-no-chujo in the world premiere of Minoru Miki's The Tale of Gengi and the role of Rodolfo in Puccini's La Boheme. In 1998 Russell was seen as the Mayor in Britten's Albert Herring with the Florida Grand Opera. That same year he received a scholarship to the Aspen Music Festival, as well as a Study Grant from the C.I.A. of Miami and was a Finalist in the Palm Beach Opera Competition. During the 2000 - 2001 season Mr. Thomas performed the role of Ivan in the touring production of The Music Shop by Richard Wargo, Male Chorus in Britten's The Rape of Lucretia, and Roderigo in Verdi's Otello on the main-stage with the Florida Grand Opera. He also performed in the US Premier of Lorenzitti's Grande Messe Symphonique with the Miami Bach Society.

Jo-Michael Scheibe

Jo-Michael Scheibe is Professor and Program Director of Choral Studies at the University of Miami where he conducts the University Chorale, coordinates the choral program, and teaches undergraduate and graduate conducting. Ensembles under his leadership have sung at state, regional, and national conferences of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) and the Music Educators National Conference (MENC), and have sung with various artists including Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras, Marvis Martin, and Kenny Loggins. Dr. Scheibe is active in the development of contemporary choral literature, music and the commissioning of young composers. Walton, Plymouth and Colla Voce Music internationally distribute his Choral Series and his ensembles are recorded on the Albany, Cane, and ANS Labels. He is also in frequent demand nationally and internationally as a clinician, conductor, and adjudicator. In 1997 Dr. Scheibe was appointed Music and Artistic Director of the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, which serves as the principal chorus for the Florida Orchestra. He was recently appointed the conductor of the Florida Philharmonic Chorus, the chorus for the Florida Philharmonic, James Judd, Music Director. He was the founder of the Long Beach Master Chorale as well as the founding conductor of the Los Angeles-based semi professional ensemble Abend Kammer Chor. Scheibe has prepared choruses for James Judd, Jahja Ling, Murray Sidlin, Irwin Hoffman, Paul Salamunovich, Thomas Sanderling and Alain Lombard. Dr. Scheibe also serves as Director of Music Ministries at Coral Gables Congregational Church serving as the Director of the Chancel Choir and Vocal Ensemble.

The Shanghai Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra (SBSO)

Xiongzhao, executive director // Yong-yan Hu, music director

SBSO was established in 1996 with the affiliation of the Shanghai Bureau for the Culture, Broadcast and Film & Television.

At the beginning of the new century, Mr. Xiongzhao, the executive director of SBSO, significantly enhanced the future of SBSO by appointing internationally acclaimed Chinese-American conductor maestro Yong-yan Hu. The first music director and conductor in SBSO's history, maestro Hu is bringing tremendous energy and vision to this world class orchestra. With support from the Shanghai Bureau for Culture, Broadcast and Film & Television along with the Shanghai Grand Theater, international musicians from countries such as England, Canada, and the United States now occupy some principal chairs in SBSO. These musicians, as well as concertmaster Laing Da-Nan, (formerly concert master of the Central Philharmonic Orchestra of China and the Central Opera House of China) are working with maestro Hu to create an orchestra of international caliber.

To celebrate its second year anniversary as the premier cultural performing arts center in Asia, the Shanghai Grand Theater has recently contracted SBSO as its “orchestra in residence.” SBSO is now able to perform works from symphonic repertoire as well as many opera and ballet productions. Opportunities to serve the public in Shanghai have become better for both organizations since SBSO found its home in the Shanghai Grand Theater.

Although SBSO has only had a rather brief history, it has already made an impact upon the musical world. The orchestra has collaborated with many internationally renowned artists including Placido Domingo, Isaac Stern, Kathleen Battle, Barbara Hendricks, JoAnn Falletta, Vladimir Rylov, Mu-hai Tang, Yu Long and Ying-ling Huang. Recently, maestro Phillipe Entremont, one of the finest pianists and conductors today, has been appointed as the first principal guest conductor in SBSO history. Since the SBSO's recent successful tour to Europe, under the baton of Chinese female conductor Zhang Pei-yu, the orchestra is planning subsequent international tours to celebrate their talents.


Paul Griffith

Master Recording Engineer

Paul Griffith

Recording Assistant - Miami

Joanna Griffith

Recording Engineers - Shanghai

Xue Wu

Wu Lin

Executive Producers

Dr. William Hipp

Mr. and Mrs. W.J. Sleeper, Jr.


Thomas M. Sleeper


Lisa Crawford

Special Assistance

Hu YongYan

Victor Kuo

Silvi Stamboliev

Cover Art: Transport

Joe Nicastri, (

Aceldama is published by Uroboros Press