Peaceful Sunday

Placido Domingo.  Quiet, tranquil Sunday.  Ah, me.

Last night, we saw our first Lyric Opera of Chicago performance of the season: Simon Boccanegra by Verdi.  An appropriate story for an election month, dramatic and political.  Two opera megastars were featured in the leading roles: Thomas Hampson and Ferruccio Furlanetto.  The story and the music are captivating.  (This performance was rather a disappointment, stiff and unimaginative.  I much prefer the La Scala production starring Placido Domingo in the title role, even if his voice is not as resonant as a baritone.) The point is that Simon Boccanegra is a man who spends his life and loses his life in the pursuit of peace.  The Italian political scene is characterized by vendetta, family feuds, curses, treason, and rebellion and peopled with villains.  The story shows, though, that everyone is a villain.  We all harm each other in one way or another.  Forgiveness and reconciliation is the only way to make a difference.  How many people must the Doge pardon by the end of Act III in order to die peacefully in his daughter’s arms?


This morning, I logged on to the internet and began a conversation with my blogger friend, Helen, of 1500 Saturdays.  Her post was about brutal killings in Nigeria, titled “How did humanity get so lost?”.  How do we respond to suffering, to the villainy that surrounds each of us?  Which stories do we listen to; which do we tell?  How do we make a peaceful Sunday in our world?  Please click here to read her post, the links, the comments and spend some time considering your own response.  “May all beings be happy; may all beings be free from suffering.”



About Last Night…

I skipped posting a blog entry yesterday.  We left town at 10:15 in the morning and drove to Chicago for a matinee at the Lyric Opera.  Then we went out to dinner with my newly legal daughter and didn’t return home until midnight.  That is my official factual excuse and reads kind of like the ones my mother used to write to my teachers in elementary school.  “Please excuse Priscilla’s absence from school yesterday.  She had stomach flu.”  The end.  Oh, but last night was wonderful.  I was aware of so much, and now I’m just not sure what to share, where to start, which story to begin.  If I had brought a camera with me, I might just present a series of abstracts and let you fill in the rest.  I didn’t bring a camera; I brought myself.  The data is in me, the images, the sensations, the concepts.  I am full and perhaps trying to stay that way.  If I leak a bit of the experience, will I lose it somehow?  If I try to distill the essence of the evening, will I vaporize much of what I so enjoyed?  Am I allowed to carry my life around like a secret?  Of course, I’m allowed.  The real question is, do I want to?  Why post and share and write and tell?  I sometimes hover between bursting like a pinata and hording like a dragon.  What do you do with the precious value of living?

Smile.  I’ll start with that.

Driving the Interstate with Steve, holding hands and laughing to Garrison Keillor’s radio broadcast “A Prairie Home Companion”.  Finding an alternate route on two-lane highways through the fields when we found the Interstate was closed in one section.  Settling in the upper balcony under a golden ceiling to listen to the virtuosity of a live performance of Baroque music.  Closing my eyes to the modern staging of Handel’s “Rinaldo” and imagining powdered wigs and candlelight.  Imagining what it would feel like to have those glorious high notes, trills, and runs burble out from my own mouth.  Watching my daughter talk about her life, noting her gestures, her warmth, her composure, marveling at her maturity.  Tasting truffle oil, mushrooms, garlic, Sangiovese, gnocchi, gelato – savoring and exclaiming pleasurably to one another in mid sentence.  Talking to the hostess about her Italian family, the recipes, the home country, the history.  Speaking words of love and support and appreciation to my daughter, noticing the shape of the space between us.  Riding home in the dark, so sleepy, so content.

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
― Thornton Wilder

photo from the restaurant's website

The Cycle is Complete

I have just returned from spending 6 hours at a modern multiplex movie theater.  Hate the glitz, the ads and especially the totally incongruous pre-show music.  I was there to see the HD simulcast of the Metropolitan Opera production of Götterdämmerung, the fourth and last installment of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.  If you’ve never learned anything about opera or Wagner before, I must encourage you to at least read up on it.  This was my first time getting the whole story and the whole score into my head.  I’d heard from my parents about how looooong the operas are.  I’d heard snatches of the music, even parodied by Elmer Fudd (“I shot the wabbit…”).  I’d heard about Wagnerian sopranos and sniggered at breastplates and horned helmets (hasn’t everyone?).   I was not expecting to be emotionally gripped and wrung out on an epic and divine scale, though.  The psychology is deeply moving.  The music supports it as cinematically and sumptuously as may be humanly possible.  The live action, singing and acting, is absolutely intense.  Seeing it with close up camera shots accentuates the intimacy, but it may take away from some of the total experience.  For this production, the set was designed by Robert Lepage of Cirque du Soliel.  It features a monstrous hydrolic machine which often distracts during the quieter instrumental passages as it whirrs and chunks into new positions.  Nevertheless, I was spellbound.  Particularly, I think, because I found myself identifying with Brünnhilde so painfully, on so many levels.   I’ve  been left sobbing at the ending of each of the four operas. 

Yes, I’m a bit of a drama queen.  I was a Voice Performance major in college and spent the last 7 years working for a theater company.  I can really get into live performances.  I put myself into the skin of the lead soprano every time.  But that’s just surface kinship.  Like Brünnhilde, my father was a god (in my eyes, at least, for a very long time), and I did everything I could to please him and do the right thing.  I ended up disappointed, my sister ended up banished, and the betrayal felt very real.  I left my father’s protection and fell in complete and holy love with a hero, a demi-god to many people.  He was duped and taken from me by a fatal disease.  I felt the anger, the confusion, the crushing grief and vowed to put the pieces together and learn the truth.  It took all my strength to face the facts, give up the ring of power, and stand for love.  I want to believe that in the end, greed, envy and the renunciation of love will sink down to the bottom of the river and that true friendship and faithful love will rise up.   So when our heroine mounts her trusty steed and rides into the funeral pyre with the ring on her finger and all of Valhalla (the gods’ palace) burns up and is engulfed in the flood of the Rhine and the ring finally returns to the river maidens, I experience an emotional catharsis that draws from a deep well of tears. 

Brava, Debra Voigt!!!

Drove home in below freezing temperatures, dove under the blankets in my bedroom and looked out the frosty window at this sunset:

It’s like Valhalla is still burning.  Will we ever learn?  At the end of the world, will love win?  The shamans of the Romantic era are telling us it’s possible.  Dare I believe?

Happy Chinese New Year, Happy Magic Flute, Happy Ethiopian restaurant

I just got back from my visit to Chicago to see my youngest child, take her to the Lyric Opera, eat dinner and sleep over.  Had a grand time, and stashed my camera in my purse so that I could share the event on this post.  So, here are the characters:

Scillagrace, actually wearing make-up and a new scarf from the Fair Trade store


...and Mema, who is always too fabulous for words


And here is the Lyric Opera House in Chicago….

Grand staircase with gold banisters and red carpet

Iconic fire-proof curtain screen

Theatrical gold chandeliers

Patrons people-watching over the balcony

The matinee performance of Die Zauberflote (imagine 2 dots over that ‘o’) attracts a younger audience and satisfies the anticipation of spectacle by including plenty of flashy pyro effects, disappearances through the trap door, animal costumes, flying and gliding set pieces with people on them, and all that good fun.  The hyper-vengeful Queen of the Night was a tad disappointing.  Her famous raging aria was not always on pitch (actually sharp on a high D!) or facile in the fast passages.  She’s a younger singer, not as seasoned.  Pamina was exquisite, however, showing superb control in her dolce pianissimo.  Mema felt the chills!  And Papageno was an expert clown as well as a spot-on baritone who had the audience eating out of his hand.  Bravi tutti!  On to dinner…

A little Ethiopian restaurant with only 8 people in it besides us.  I’ve never eaten authentic Ethiopian food before.  It is served without utensils.  You break off pieces of the spongy, sour flat bread (injera) and grab the spiced food with that.  I ordered a lamb stew; Mema had a vegetarian platter which took up half the table!  Five different spiced vegetable dishes on one huge round of injera: squash, green beans, mushrooms, chick peas, and salad.

The injera is sort of like a damp rag...but tastier

Delicious, and new!  Toddled off to Mema’s apartment to get into comfy clothes, cuddle the cat, watch a video of my late husband (her dad) singing a recital, have a few drinks and a good, cathartic cry before going to bed in the king-sized cushy bed that used to be mine….

I love my daughter, as a person as well as a family member.  I love that we can talk honestly about everything, share on the deepest level, feel genuine affection for each other, and play together!

One thing I noted, however; nighttime in the city is noisy!   The elevated train rumbles by, rattling the brick building; the floors sag and creak when anyone walks through the apartment; the cat purrs loudly next to my ear.   So, now that I am back home, I’m going to take a nap!  Toodles….

Lord Have Mercy

Gospodi pomiluj.  That’s Church Slavonic for “God have mercy”, same as the Greek Kyrie eleison.  I remember learning a setting of those words in High School choir.  The entire text of the piece was just those two words, repeated over and over at increasing dynamic levels.  The suffering of the world thrown high to the ears of God.  There were moments in the opera last night (Boris Godunov) where this poignant plea rang out and reached my heart high in the upper balcony, but unlike a Puccini moment, it didn’t take full hold.  Why not?  Well, I could bicker about the staging, pointing out that the chorus milling about in the background distracted from the Holy Fool’s aria downstage left in front of the floodlight.   I could point out that the composer wasn’t really a professional and didn’t provide enough scene change music to set off these important highlights.  Others came in later (Rimsky-Korsakov, for instance) and tried to make Boris a bit more theater-ready, but the Lyric staged the original version.  But perhaps the more intriguing discussion is about the way Russian suffering compares to Italian – or Buddhist – suffering.

photo credit Dan Rest

This iconic Russian opera includes a large chorus of peasants, children, boyars (advisers), soldiers and priests.  Russia’s suffering is peopled.  By contrast, Puccini’s operas often concentrate on the suffering of one or two lovers.  You feel the depths of their grief in soaring melodies, cry with them, and feel cleansed.  (Think Butterfly, Tosca, Boheme.)  Russia’s suffering would never be so finite.  It’s pervasive.  The czar embodies this and its relentlessness drives him mad.  Well, that and hallucinations of a child he supposedly murdered.  But he cares about his people; he tries to feed them, and they still blame him for every want.  How do you find peace?

Buddhism addresses peace from the inside out.  It isn’t a peace that you could pass on to a population as their leader.  The best you could do is find it for yourself and try to be a role model.  It would be quite a challenge to maintain it as the head of a huge, suffering nation.  Would that be the Emperor of Japan’s story? Or China’s and India’s story?  Actually, the Met is currently showing Phillip Glass’s opera about Ghandi (Satyagraha).  It was simulcast in theaters this past Saturday.  Missed it, but hoping to see the encore screening December 7th.

Here’s another thought about nationalism and identity: there’s Mother Russia and the German Fatherland; what parental figure do we have connecting us to American land?  Uncle Sam?  Does that mean we are orphans?

I have to say that exploring and addressing my personal grief and suffering through Art is like taking a bitter pill with a large spoonful of glittering sugar.  Costumes, twinkly lights, gorgeously rich bass voices and sympathetic violins really take the edge off.  I appreciate the genius and consider myself enormously fortunate.   Thanks for the grace and mercy.  Oh, and I hope Erik Nelson Werner wasn’t badly hurt when he fell off the set in a hasty exit.