St. Teresa vs. Loreen

I’d like to thank something called school for interrupting my blogging. But *exhales* finally I finished this. And it still looks incoherent.

Back in the 1600s, most of the visitors to Santa Maria della Victoria (“Our Lady of Victory”) in Rome were illiterate, so simply writing a saint’s testimony on the wall of the church would not have been an acceptable idea: It wouldn’t look nice, the visitors would probably think they were just weird black marks on the wall, and those who could read could have completely different interpretations of what happened. Not to mention, the loss of religious tourists would have meant shorter funding for the church. As a result, Gian Lorenzo Bernini was commissioned to decorate the chapel, recreate the story with visuals, and tell the story to everyone who entered the church.

Bernini presented the story of Teresa of Avila, a Discalced Carmelite nun who experienced spiritual ecstasy, combining both spiritual and physical aspects:

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.”(Teresa of Avila)

The work “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa” was completed in 1652. 360 years later, Swedish Melodifestivalen composers Thomas G: Son and Peter Boström entered a song with choreography that may have been greatly inspired by the work.

Of course, the composers and choreographers had to change some things around: they were working with real people, there was dancing and singing involved, and it was a three-minute performance instead of a one-moment tableau. However, they managed to keep the main focus: the main character is overcome by her surroundings somewhere between heaven and earth. She is able to describe what is happening, but she has absolutely no control of her surroundings.

Setting: G: son, Boström, and Bernini planned for their main characters to be somewhere between heaven and earth, somewhere that people think they are when they fall in love. (This doesn’t matter if it’s with a person, with a religion, or with a fandom.) Both St. Teresa and Loreen are physically raised above the ground: Loreen stands on the stage, which is slightly raised above the floor, while St. Teresa is in the altar lying on top of clouds. The biggest difference between the two is that one is shown to be good, while the other one is for the audience to decide. Besides hanging golden (metal) rays from the top of the altar, Bernini also hid a skylight above St. Teresa to add in natural light rays to show that this love with God and religion was good. In Loreen’s case, the hall darkens and strobe lights (similar to the gold rays) seem to randomly point all over the auditorium. The wind starts blowing and eventually snow starts falling. If the auditorium hall is seen as real life, then what happens during the three minutes represents the supernatural.

Clothing: If Bernini’s work suddenly came to life while he was working on the rest of the decorations, he would probably be extremely ticked off: all of the intricate marble folds he carved into her dress would droop, and he would need multiple workers to constantly fan the dress to make St. Teresa look as if she was still floating on a cloud between heaven and earth. Loreen has it a little bit easier, since her choreographer only needed to hire a few people to operate wind machines directed at her loose, flowing jacket and hair. She struggles a little bit against the wind before showing the audience that she is small and helpless in her surroundings and needs to accept what is around her. Later, she dances with the wind in a routine that appears loosely based off of tai chi: loose, flowing, and as a part of her surroundings.

Voice: Even though people constantly say that Eurovision focuses mostly on the visuals, it’s still the Eurovision Song contest, where singing is still the most important aspect. Loreen sings the verses with a breathy voice, and the gasping is most obviously heard when she sings, “Forever and ever, together we sail into infinity. We’re higher and higher and higher; we’re reaching for divinity.” However, once she starts the refrain, her voice becomes stronger to sustain the longer notes. It’s as if the power isn’t coming from her; rather, it comes from her surroundings.

Facial features and Title: According to some less-than-polite comments on YouTube, Loreen appears drunk or high. Given the title of the song, it’s not too hard to rationalise that (considering the first place I learned about the words “euphoria” and “ecstasy” was in a drugs-are-bad-for-you program in elementary school). The YouTube commenters weren’t completely off: Loreen’s facial expression looks slightly twisted in pain, but it appears to be relaxed at the same time, as if she is in an altered state of consciousness. However, euphoria could occur from chemical means (drugs), spiritual means, or sexual means. If I assume this to be a love song, then the cause could be any of the three. Bernini probably also understood that there were multiple causes to the one feeling. Few religious tourists would have understood spiritual ecstasy, but they would understand the sculpture’s face: Something strange is happening, and it’s painful, but I want to bask in this feeling of falling in love forever.  In St. Teresa’s case, it’s with God and her faith. With Loreen, we as the audience are like St. Teresa’s witnesses: it’s up to us to decide what happened.

Angel: This is probably the most obvious similarity between “Euphoria” and “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa,” and it is also the reason why I started writing this post. Hmmm… an angel out of nowhere decides to stab St. Teresa with an arrow, and a hidden dancer picks Loreen up from the floor? Both occur at the climax of the scene, less than a minute before they fall back to earth and have to tell the story to an audience. At that moment, heaven and earth are fused as one, when the arrow is in St. Teresa’s heart, when Ausben Jordan (the hidden breakdancer) and Loreen are dancing together.

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