Virgins on the Verge

Virgins on the Verge was born out of my senior recital for my undergraduate degree at Duquesne University. It was intended to be a musical program exploring the psyches of fictional and real life women who maintain or lose their chastity and make great sacrifices for love.

The first portion of the program focuses largely on Shakespeare’s character, Ophelia, from his play Hamlet. It is debated among scholars whether Ophelia actually maintained virginal status to her death. However, it is apparent that this status was a point of contention for herself, her brother, her father, and her love interest, Hamlet. Ophelia’s eventual madness is caused by both her grief over Hamlet’s and her father’s death and the unrealistic expectations and pressures put upon her. The story of Ophelia’s death is depicted in Berlioz’s “La mort d’Ophelie,” and it is apparent that in her madness, she surrendered her life. Ophelia’s suicidal intentions and awareness thereof, are again ambiguous.

The second portion of the program focuses on a variety of characters including the Virgin Mary, the wife of a Chinese noble, poetess and Saint Mirabai, and Mary Magdalene. The Virgin Mary is pure, wise, and unwaveringly faithful. Perhaps unexpectedly, the largest test of her faith comes when she finds her twelve-year-old child, Jesus, missing on their journey home from Jerusalem after Passover. “The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation” is a consideration of what Mary’s inner monologue might have been when she found her child missing.

Mirabai, a Hindu saint, was a poet and devotee of Krishna. She was given in marriage to a nobleman, but Mirabai refused to consummate or recognize the marriage; she believed she was already married to the Dark God, Krishna. Mirabai defied social norms for women of high social rank in the 15th century. She left her husband’s house several times and visited public temples. Furthermore, when her husband died in war, Mirabai refused to commit Sati, or burn alive on her husband’s funeral pyre. It is said her family attempted to kill her twice, but were unsuccessful. Mirabai remained undeterred in her devotion and ministry and left the family permanently, casting off a noble status she never wished to possess. It is reported that she was last seen in a temple, singing in devotion to Sri Krishna, and that she transcended into his idol. In Mirabai Songs, John Harbison sets Mirabai’s own poetry to illustrate her fervent, devotional, and magnetic presence.

Work consulted: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Biography of Mirabai”, Oxford, UK – . Last updated 3rd August 2014.

Brady Collins