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I Cried in Act Two of Madama Butterfly & I Don’t Understand Why

February 8, 2012 1 comment

What’s Opera!?
A New Series Documenting My Induction into the World of Opera
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I knew I was heading into the Met to see a classic for the first time. The rain was pounding on that Tuesday in Manhattan and we fought our way across the wet, windy plaza to slip into the sanctuary of the corner entryway by the Metropolitan Opera gift shop. Dripping with anticipation we shook off the tempest and followed the throng into the heart of the lobby and up the grand stair case with its deep red velvet and gold trim.
I knew enough of Puccini’s opera to recognize the music and the general story line. It was simple; a brash American military man taking a Japanese Geisha and then abandoning her, only returning at the end to collect her child whom he had fathered. I listened to a recording enough times to know the music delivered the emotional equivalent of a sucker punch so I thought myself brilliant to have stashed a couple of tissues in my jacket pocket for the inevitably sad finale. Ah, inexperience, it seems was about to catch me unawares once again.
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Act one is stunningly beautiful. The set, the music, the costumes, the chiaroscuro of the black raked stage to the brilliant performers and the simplicity of the staging weaves a world that I easily loose myself into. As the opera progresses I fall forward from my steeply raked stadium seat at the back of the house into a soft and alluring divan of music and flowers. I am easily wooed by B. F. Pinkerton knowing his intentions are provisional. I abandon reason for passion as the house fills with fluttering red petals thick as the sheets of rain I ran through earlier and the curtain falls as my own “kimono” falls to the floor leaving me a trembling vessel,naked, aroused and waiting to be consumed. Lights up, I take in a deep breath.

So far so good, it’s everything I was hoping it would be. I wonder around the back of the house lined with those holding standing-room-only tickets who are now sitting on the floor. The house is full so I make my way off to the side to find the ladies room and gaze out the window onto Henry Moore’s “Reclining Figure,” sculpture in its reflecting pool. The rain continues unabated and I am drawn back momentarily into passion and fluttering flower petals.

Madama Butterfly at the Met

A number of folks from my synagogue have tickets to tonight’s performance so we find each other and schmooze on the little landing leading up to the Family Circle seating. Some people are annoyed as they make their way past us but we are all so happy just to be there we ignore the occasional looks and grumblings. Soon we are back in our seats with the lights dimming down and the orchestra warming up. I quickly clean my glasses so I can see everything clearly and we are off to act two. I am glad for having had the break. Intermission cooled my stirrings and brought me back to my senses; I am in control of myself.

Before I know it Butterfly is alone and hopeful. I follow her steps and see the world through her eyes knowing her optimism will not be enough. I even find her annoying with her overbearing sanguinity and naïveté. My legs are restless and I try not to kick the seat in front of me as I shift back and forth. My mood from act 1 is stale and I turn sullen waiting for something to happen when, as if in response to my impatience, a single drip tickles the back of my nose. I dig for my tissue thinking it’s the end of my cold. The “letter duet” with Sharpless is almost at its conclusion when Cio-Cio San reveals her child and my face is suddenly all wet.
I generally equate the rising urge to cry with a tightening of my throat and a squinting of my eyes but I’m not feeling that way at all… “I’m crying.” I tell myself, shocked at my own surprise. Tears are falling from my eyes and I have used up the two tissues I so smartly stashed in my pocket and I can not explain why I am crying. Cio-Cio San and Suzuki are joyfully strewing their home with flowers, the child is happily playing nearby, Pinkerton’s ship is at harbor, the music is bright and overtly positive yet tears are streaming down my face though I still don’t feel the classic symptoms of sadness. What is going on?! My mind has yet to catch up with the emotional response my body is clearly exhibiting and I look around trying to grab hold of something to give me stability and balance. The brilliant white of Cio-Cio San’s robe against the black of the stage blinds me and I cannot make out the translation being broadcast on the LED bar in front of my seat. My eyes blur from fresh tears. I use my sleeve to wipe them as the tissues are now wet and limp in my hand. I settle for listening, temporarily abandoning my attachment to sight. The trio settles in for an evening’s vigil on “the little house on the hill” on-stage. Butterfly awaits the arrival of Pinkerton and I settle into a waiting stance of my own. The tears from my eyes abate and I, in a place of unsettled desire for a futile hopefulness, accept the rising of the house lights as second intermission kicks in and I am returned to my seat in the back of the house at the Met.

Confused, shaken and armed with a fist full of paper towels pulled from the ladies room during intermission I thankfully welcome the fading house lights, pulling the darkness around my shoulders like a familiar blanket. Act 2 part 2 opens with a musical slap across the face followed by a conciliatory hug not unlike a hit from an abusive boyfriend on a beautiful Sunday morning. I know what is to come and I can hardly bear to watch Cio-Cio San’s descent into despair. I maintain my composure until I hear someone two rows behind and slightly to my left sniffle and choke back tears. This is all I need to start weeping openly hoping I don’t descend into noisy sobs. This time my body and mind are in sync as my emotions come into full bloom and I hand myself over to Puccini’s achingly beautiful music loosing much of myself in the process. Catharsis kicks into high gear lifting me out of worldly concerns blotting out all but the inevitable unfolding before me. With heart pounding resolution Butterfly lies dead. Streams of blood-red fabric pour out from her body. We burst forth with applause shouting “Brava,brava!” wiping away collective tears.
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When my friend, Amy, died from breast cancer in 2008 I recall carrying grief around with me for several days after her funeral. It would unexpectedly rise up with my breath and I’d have to exhale a mournful sigh releasing a bit of the pain every time. As I walked out of the Metropolitan Opera into a post-storm, crystal-clear midnight sky I carried Madama Butterfly home with me. I brought her to work the next day and we had lunch together alone in my office; the sadness still palpable. Such a simple story of a woman caught in circumstances doing her best to retain some modicum of dignity in her simple life. Maybe I identify with her situation more than I care to admit. Still, I really don’t understand why I cried before the familiar pangs of sadness kicked in. Puccini’s orchestration must have been speaking to me in a language I did not intellectually know yet instinctively understood. Was it possible for my body to respond to the music before my mind could contextualize it or did my alter ego, knowing what was to come, just take advantage of the opportunity to get in a good cry? I am not saavy enough in this vastly intellectual world of operatic expertise or psychology to proffer much of an opinion. What I do know is that some tragic truth about the human condition got through to me that night. Puccini, together with the entire ensemble at the MetOpera, fashioned a remarkable production that pierced my hard-polished New York exterior and showed me how delicate I was; how poignant all our lives are.
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I used to openly mock the notion of opera.

I had no idea!

MMN

http://www.metoperafamily.org/opera/madama-butterfly-puccini-tickets.aspx

Suddenly Patriotic

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I’m on my way into work as usual thinking about the day ahead when suddenly a surge of patriotism washes over me.
I can’t quite put a finger on why…

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My Definition of a Lovely Lunch

My definition of a lovely lunch: Start with a fresh apple  (Fuji is good) cut into slices. Add several chunks of a favored cheese like Asiago Fontina or Port Salute and a slice of good artisinal whole grain bread. Fill a small dish with natural peanut butter & place a few select pieces of dark chocolate next to it on your plate. Brew up a decent cup of Earl Grey tea & find a spot where people will leave you be for a while. I like going to Bryant Park on a nice day or slipping into a vacant office to gaze out the window onto Manhattan island while I feast.
You will enjoy the many culinary combinations you are able to make; apple & cheese, bread & cheese, peanut butter & apple, apple & chocolate, chocolate & bread, chocolate & peanut butter, chocolate & peanut butter & bread! The tea helps bring it all together in a harmonic syncopation that warms your entire body.

This makes for a delightful, healthy & impressive lunch that powers you for the remainder of the afternoon.

Have fun & get inspired to improvise.

The Next Great Mountain for my Mind to Climb

So I was bored, really no other reason to give to it. Work was slow – August you know – and the office was quiet. Rather than share my mid-day meal with a hundred tourists down in the plaza I found a vacant office, prepared my food and plugged into my iPod. Radio Lab was to be my lunch buddy for the day so I randomly pulled up an old podcast and began to listen to “The Ring and I.” That is when it happened. Over the course of one hour all my doubts and resistance dropped away and I gave myself over, at long last in my short life, to the sway of Richard Wagner’s epic tale known as The Ring Cycle. (Pardon me while I swoon.)

A bit of back story

I have long been a JRR Tolkien fan and read and re-read my own hard-cover editions of The Lord of the Rings decades before Peter Jackson’s most honorable film adaptations first lit up the screen. Some of my earliest child hood memories are of my mother sitting by the fireplace reading The Hobbit to my sisters and me. In grade school I spent hours lying on the floor pouring over a huge colorful book depicting fantastical images of Greek & Norse gods and goddesses.

So somehow I always knew that Wagner’s iconic opera had strong influence on Tolkien & that other guy who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia *. (Sorry, I have no right to slight a literary legend I just can’t recall his name as I sit here working a web log entry. – sigh – oh the evils of modernity and it’s impatient slave driver, the Internet. Must I Google this now to satisfy the need to know whilst I loose my train of thought?!) Opera, however, was totally not my thing and no Wagnerian scholar was going to spill light on my jacket of youthful rebellion so I ditched and dodged my way past Der Ring Des Nibelungen as I simultaneously dove deep into Middle Earth and the burden of Frodo Baggins. As maturity grew and my rebellious streak softened into a quirky sensibility I had a burgeoning awareness of this “other” Ring encroaching upon my literary fantasy world.

Innocently I walked through the doors to the Ring Cycle and I embraced it with abandon. I fell in love and experienced all the giddiness and sense of wonder that comes from discovering a new and mysterious opportunity to stretch my mind despite knowing very little about my suitor. After my mid-day journey with Jad Abumrad and his pod cast I went back to my desk and began a fierce search for anything and everything Wagnerian that involved a ring. Remember I said it was August and things were slow that week. To my great surprise I found out that the Metropolitan Opera was on the verge of mounting a new Ring cycle and that tickets were soon to go on sale. Was it fate? Was it coincidence? Was it a great convergence of time, space and understanding? Who cares? All I knew was that my head was filled with a kind of sweet obsession, a gnawing desire, an impatient resolve that I had just come face to face with the next great mountain for me and my mind to climb. I fell under Wagner’s spell and now the world simply does not look the same to me.

*CS Lewis

Categories: Cybernetic Thoughts, opera

Commuting – A Daily rite of TRansition

Every typical weekday many of us go through an amazing rite of transition. We move, physically, emotionally, & for a few, spiritually, from a private space called home to a public space called work and back again to that private space. Public – private – public – private , each time undergoing a transformation of sorts. Back in the day when people wore hats as a necessary dress item we could quickly identify who we were and what we did by the hat we wore upon our head. Today the phrase remains “I’m changing hats right now” to indicate that the present roll we are playing is undergoing a significant shift. I don’t have a hat, I have a commute. Sometimes it comes in the guise of an angry bus driver throwing passengers around in the back, some times it’s the roaring subway, other times a long, slow walk home. This moment of transit is rich with insight and introspection for me. I watch the paterns made by the 800 people criscrossing the intersection of 5th Ave & 42nd St. I observe the shapes of the buildings whirling by or the streak of lights in the tunnel. I recall memories from long ago, or just yesterday. We constantly move – we hate to stop – we focus ahead – we miss a lot.

My life is made up of transitions – how I string them together makes the music of my existance.

Categories: Cybernetic Thoughts

My Most Amazing Son

September 28, 2006 1 comment

I have a son – a most amazing son. When he emerged from my body the world was forever changed. We’ve been through a lot and will be through more together. Together we heard and watched the air plane go overhead that hit the World Trade Towers, stood together shaking as the attack unfolded. Together we explored the minutia of a day – the light dancing in the window, the breeze blowing his golden hair. We’ve fought and battled and turned to each other moments later with apologies and hugs. On the threshold of becoming a man my most amazing son is looking out at the world he will soon be in charge of – for his part. What does he see? How does he relate to it? What can he possibly do in the face of all the stupidity that adults have heaped upon his world? Go to work – that’s what. He’s living in a great age of privilage and respect, a human being can scarcely imagine it better. Let us assure that there is fresh air for him and his children to breath – clean water for him and his children to drink – light and space and hope to love and live into. He is my legacy – it is for him that I carry on.

WTC collage - 5 years later“The meaning of life is that it stops” Franz Kafka

A collage remembering 9/11 by my son, Max, for a middle school project.

Categories: Cybernetic Thoughts