Sub Pontio Pilato
Composer: Erling Wold
Librettist: James Bisso
Other Artistic Personnel: Melissa Weaver (director)
Clyde Sheets (lighting and set designer)
Esmeralda Kent (costume designer)
Jonathan Khuner (conductor)
Sue Bohlin (director of the chorus)
Lynne Rutter (scenic artist)
Orchestra: Laurie Seibold, Mark Alburger, Peter Josheff, Karla Ekholm, Melissa Vainio, Jab, James Manganaro, Lisa Prosek, Hadley McCarroll, Marja Mutru, Fred Morgan
Original Cast: John Duykers (Pilate)
Kerry Walsh (Procula/Ptolemaeus)
Laura Bohn (Historia)
Micah Epps (Tiberius/Kaiaphas)
Ken Berry (Herod/Sejanus)
Steve McKearney (Ananas)
Girls Chorus: Jessica Ashman, Liz Binning, Laura Evans, Anne Hege, Alyce Miller, Jessica (TJ) Togasaki, Nora Wilcox
Work Web Site:
Premiere Date: April 10, 2003
Producing Company: Erling Wold's Fabrications
Description: The opera Sub Pontio Pilato concerns the suicide of Pontius Pilate and his subsequent historical transformation from a minor Roman bureaucrat into a major character in the drama of the Christian liturgy. He is portrayed as a pathetic figure, preoccupied with philosophy and obsessed with his past.

In the first act, his young slave, Ptolemæus, slits Pilate’s wrists. Pilate sings that there is nothing after death. He wavers between consciousness and hallucinatory flashbacks of events that led to his downfall. In subsequent scenes, Historia warns Pilate that his historical fate will be the result of a misconstrued memory. Ptolemæus reveals that Pilate has attempted suicide before. Pilate remembers three men he knew while in Judæa: two enemies and one a friend. Ptolemæus pretends to be Pilate’s long-dead wife, Procula. Historia sings of Pilate’s biggest political mistake: the introduction of the military standards into Jerusalem. (These standards were an affront to Jewish law, because they displayed graven images of the Roman emperor.) While Historia sings, children act the parts of both the Roman soldiers and the angry Jewish crowd. Pilate relents and withdraws the troops to Cæsarea.

The first entr’acte consists of a short invocation of Æon, the god of time, and arias which become increasingly delirious and cryptic.

The second act begins with Procula’s frightening vision of a bleeding youth. Next, Ptolemæus plays the young man from the vision as a Judæan rebel and is tried before Pilate. He is sentenced to crucifixion and nailed to a cross. Pilate finally understands his wife’s vision is the same as Historia's earlier warning. As Ptolemæus is lowered from the cross, we see that he is alive. Pilate remembers his dismissal from office by Tiberius and his recall to Rome. Historia imparts to him her dark secret: whatever we perceive—like the food we eat—is taken in, digested and excreted into the sewer. A trio, sung by Procula, Historia and Pilate, implies that it would have been better if we had never been born. Pilate sings one last aria and dies.

During the second entr’acte three women take Pilate’s body and place it on a bier which they set ablaze. Afterward, they gather up his ashes into an urn and place it on an altar surmounted by a bust of Pilate. Suddenly the bust moves and Pilate bursts out from the monument wearing dress armor. An elderly soldier awakes and roughly leads him to the final act: his trial.
Pilate is put on trial by the Jews and Christians, who sing a polyglot text recounting his crimes and demanding his death. Three judges, Æbutius, Sejanus and Historia hear the testimony. Sejanus defends Pilate, but he is found guilty and sentenced to death. Instead of crucifixion Pilate and Procula are dressed as saints in golden raiment. Elaborate masks are placed over their faces and a chorus sings the Credo. His fate is complete. The opera ends on a quiet note: during the 1970s, an Ethiopian soldier and a Russian advisor discuss Pilate’s place among the saints of the Abyssinian Orthodox Church.
Character List (Major): Caius Pontius Pilate (tenor)
Ptolemæus/Procula (mezzo soprano)
Historia (soprano)
Sejanus, Herod, Legatus (tenor)
Kaiaphas, Tiberius, Ethiopian (bass-baritone)
Ananas (countertenor)
Reviews: Erling Wold's captivating (if confusing) 1994 chamber opera gets a belated world premiere in San Francisco. - Andante 4/10/2003
Video Clip:
Length: 02:15
Total Acts: 3
Chorus: Girls Treble Chorus, 9 voices
Orchestration: There are three different orchestrations available. The chamber orchestration was used at the premiere.

1. Two Pianos
2. fl, ob, cl, bsn - hrn, tpt, tba - 2 Synthesizers, pn, perc 3. 3 fl, 2 ob, 3 cl, 3 bsn - 4 hrn, tpt, 2 tbn, tba - harp, pf, synth, perc - strings
Ballet/Dance: None
Musical Style: modern, tonal, epic
Contact: Erling Wold
E-mail Address:
Phone: 415-902-9653
Publisher Web Site:
The Opera Fund Awardee Information
Award Category: 2003 Repertoire Development
Awardee: Musical Traditions
Director: Jim Cave
Conductor: Jonathan Khuner
Designer: Clyde Sheets
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