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Angel of the Amazon


A painting of a person

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Melanie Long in Angel of the Amazon


Angel of the Amazon


By Cammy Paglia


Under the direction of Nancy Rhodes and musical direction by Elizabeth Hastings, composer-librettist Evan Mack’s Angel of the Amazon is an operatic portrayal of a devout soul who was assassinated for her convictions. Mack was inspired to write the work after attending a lecture about Sister Dorothy Stang (Melanie Long). “Dot,” as she was called by all who loved her, was a Roman Catholic nun of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and a staunch crusader for environmental justice and opposition to deforestation.

Her convictions came to fruition when she began her ministry in Brazil in 1966.
Her mission—for which she gave her life’s blood—was defending the rights of rural workers and indigenous peoples and steadfastly protecting the environment—specifically the Amazon Rainforest. She had requested that she be assigned to a mission where she would be working with the poorest of the poor. She was there to acquire land rights from the government and “to help people recapture a relationship with Mother Earth that is tender and kind”.

The ruthless, barbarous loggers of the Amazon were quite incensed by her progress and her petitioning for land rights. The corruption of the government, loggers and ranchers loomed over the heads of the people and jeopardized the integrity of the rainforest. Her outspoken cries in defense of her vocation were met with death threats.

Despite her awareness of the horrific consequences of her activism, Sister Dorothy did not run. She knew at the outset that the indigenous people did not have the privilege to flee the violence and greed of the landowners who flourished off their backs and the rape of the land. To flee in order to save herself would mean abandoning the indigenous farmers who she felt had “the sacrosanct right to aspire to a better life on land where they can live and work with dignity while respecting the environment.”

Sister Dorothy was shot dead at the age of 73 by men who were employed by the owner of a logging company. She was martyred for her relentless pursuit of social and environmental justice.

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Ensemble of Angel of the Amazon

Set design by Andis Gjoni made the best use possible of the backdrop of the stage there is a beautiful and brilliant, yellow sun, and a stage floor was artfully painted to look like a plot of land, where the actors would recreate the activities of the farmers growing their crops. The musicians were stage right; pianist, percussionist and violinist were clearly visible. The balance of musicians to singers was off; music was much too loud making it difficult to hear the words being sung.

Nevertheless, one could easily glean the sentiment and meaning because the actors were quite skillful and the passion and sincerity they brought to their characters were easily transmitted to the audience. It was clear that the performers of
Angel of the Amazon were gifted singers and actors; the audience clearly felt the devotion these players had to Sister Dorothy’s cause.

This specifically points to the stellar acting ability of Melanie Long who played Sister Dorothy with heartfelt empathy for the Brazilian people of the rainforest and for their sacred land itself. We meet her wearing a nun’s habit, yet she quickly changes to a crucifix around her neck, a long, red skirt and a t-shirt that reads “A  morte a foresta a o fin da nossa vida”.  It is Sister Dorothy’s quote when translated from the Portuguese reads “The death of the forest is the end of our lives”. This costume change along with her talent as an actor renders Melanie Long as a convincing nun who is truly a woman of the people. She portrays a humble, devoted and loving woman who is not afraid to get down on her hands and knees to tend to the earth alongside the Brazilian people with deep reverence and gratitude.

Long’s most poignant moment on stage is when Sister Dorothy is ambushed by her armed assassins, who ask her if she is carrying any weapons. It is truly heart wrenching when she reaches into her shoulder bag and holds up her bible and refers to it as her only weapon. If that isn’t enough to covey the purity of her intentions, she then recites a passage from The Beatitudes, “Blessed are the pure in spirit,” which turn out to be her final words as she is brutally slain with the sound of deafening gun shots. She dies in the arms of Luis (Jose Rubio) who is devastated.

Angel of the Amazon is truly a labor of love, an inspiring account of what it means to take a stand against the forces of greed and corruption which still remain a deadly threat to our planet and to an ecosystem which we are a part of—not separate from.

May the message of this work be carried out of the theater and on to the streets. May it convince us to pay heed to the woe that is out to destroy us if we do not, even in some small way, carry on the work of the beloved Sister Dorothy Stang—the mighty angel of the Amazon.



Angel of the Amazon

At the Sheen Center

18 Bleecker St. NY, NY 10012

November 17, 18, at 7:30pm; November 19 at 3 and 7:30

 Tickets $28-153


Running time: 65 minutes