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Opera Therapy

It’s been a rough week.

· Monday, finances hit a bottleneck
· Tuesday, sick kid & a deadline to meet
· Wednesday, three-hour board meeting
· Thursday, fallout from the Wednesday board meeting
· All on top of a full work-week and personal projects that need constant tending

Friday morning arrives and defeat from a failed project and overwhelm about future projects weigh in on me. Doubt and regret brew in my early-morning coffee and I grumble to my kind-hearted husband who pointedly stands clear as I grab an eight inch knife to cut the breakfast Cantaloupe. Life would be so much better if I didn’t have to deal with other people’s mishegas! (Who hasn’t had that thought at least once?!)

I have got to get a grip so I opt for walking to work (not appreciating the fact that I actually have that option) I wonder and ruminate asking the universe why people act the way they do. The answer comes at once: Opera.

Humanity is a messy ball of wax. We cheat, we lie, we triumph, we lament, we love, we sulk, we fall and we get back up again. Opera embodies all this, it takes our feelings and literally gives them voice. As I schlep I plug in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. From the first terrifyingly thrilling chord I am pulled out of my mind-chatter and suddenly notice that I’m enjoying the walk. I listen to Leporello complain about his job;

Notte e giorno faticar
Rest I’ve none by night or day
Scanty fare and doubtful pay
Ev’ry whim I must fulfil
Take my place whoever will
I myself will go accounting
I the gentleman will play
But with him no more I’ll stay
No,no! But with him no more I’ll stay

Hey, at least my days are not filled with babysitting a sexual psychopath on his journey to destruction. Immediately I feel better about my own situation. The behavior of people that annoyed me an hour ago now seems almost cute. Donna Elvira makes a ferocious entrance seething about the recent ill treatment she has received:

Ah che mi deceemai
Where shall I find a token
To guide my steps to thee?
My heart is nearly broken
The world is dark to me
Ah! If he stood before me
Fiercely his vows I’d spurn
The love that once he bore me
Can never more return!

Donna, darling, we have GOT to talk!

The grip on my negative attitude is released and the self I know and love emerges as Mozart takes my hand and graciously accompanies me up Sixth Avenue.

Grazie Maestro, grazie.

MMN

____________________________________________________
Thanks to Mr Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at Blogspot for the libretto translations

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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.
~
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.
~
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.
««««««««««
I used to openly mock the notion of opera.

I had no idea!

MMN

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

Do It Yourself Ticket Acquisition

DIY is – for the most part – De rigueur in our household.

Common sense leads my family to make a number of choices that have dramatic impact upon our day-to-day living. For example we cook our own meals which means we plan, shop, prep, cook, consume and clean up after ourselves several times a day. We fix our broken light switches in the kitchen which means we sometimes go for weeks cooking in partial light until we get around to handling the broken switch. We scrape, prime & paint our own walls, we build our own loft beds, we take our own family portraits, we design & print our own holiday greeting cards; the list goes on. Sure it’s a pain and it takes up a lot of our time but there is something solid and wonderful about doing a task of our own bidding.

When the time came to make the step to secure tickets to the opera it was clear we were going to take the DIY approach. Calling in a subscription was much too simple, not to mention out of our budget. No, what we needed was a plan of attack. We had vision, obstacles & one goal in mind.

• Vision – holding tickets to the opera in my hand
• Obstacle – everyone else who wants tickets and who, like us, can’t afford a season subscription
• Goal – be among the first ten people in line at the Met when the box office opens August 15th at noon

Thus began a period of sweet anticipation and prep work as we gathered schedules, floor plans, box office notes, #Met Twitter feeds and Lincoln Center schematics to guide us. The calendar was marked, family members most affected by our opera obsession alerted & peace offerings made. Finally the weekend of the great acquisition arrived.

Read more…

How My Teenage Son Grounded Me. It’s Not What You Think.

Just as my mother inculcated in me a love of literary fantasy so have my husband and I ignited an intellectual spark in the soul of our teenage son, Max. Mythological beasts, rings of power and tales of brave journeymen have rung in his ears since he was small. In fact I read The Hobbit to him just as my mom did for me (without the fireplace, I might add) and from the very book in which Mother’s fingers lingered on the corner of every page as she cradled the spine in the palm of her left hand.

My eldest son came of age in the era of Harry Potter, basking in the warm glow of anticipation with each subsequent publication of JK Rowling’s definitive works. And then, of course, it was Peter Jackson’s directors cut of the Lord of the Rings trilogy that sealed the deal for Max. I watch, now, as a complex, fascinating and self-assured young man steps out the door to take himself to places where I once was mandated to shepherd him. Our roles are changing and to my surprise his wisdom often overrules my own.

Such was the case when I shared over dinner about my new interest with opera and Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle. Max took to it immediately. His trip to Germany with my mother, the summer before, assured his interest in the language and the fact that JRR Tolkien drew inspiration from Wagner’s epic only sweetened the deal[1]. After we cleaned up from our home-cooked family meal we were on the computer pulling up suggestions for the authoritative recording of Das Rheingold, first of the four operas.

There were too many recommendations to pick from so my husband jokingly suggested we look up the recording that Francis Ford Coppola used in Apocalypse Now. “If it was good enough for Coppola it has be good enough for you guys.” Then he took a beat; “Of course, it may also be the cheapest version he could find so who knows if it really is any good or not.” My husband sure knows how to put things into perspective. So we found the Wiener Philharmoniker

(remember now, Germans pronounce their W’s like our V’s so it should sound like Vee-eh-ner. Ok, stop sniggering…if you can’t control yourself then just call it The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Oy!)

So we downloaded Das Rheingold[2] onto iTunes and suddenly I am walking around listening to opera on my iPod.

Whoa! Stop the press!

(I wish there was a social media equivalent for this power statement. “Delete this entry!” simply does not have the gravitas I’m going for here.)

What the hell is going on?! (cue Talking Heads if you are interested in listening to the sound track in my head as I write.) I am forty-six years old. I’ve been married for nearly twenty years. There are teenagers and tweeners in my home AND I’M WALKING AROUND LISTENING TO HARD CORE OPERA!

Talking HeadsYou may ask yourself, how do I work this?
You may ask yourself, where is that large automobile?
You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house
You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful wife
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again, after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground
same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it…[3]

One could call this a mid-life crisis. I amused and horrified myself each time I plugged in and allowed the sound of warbling operatic singers to wash over my once rebellious and opinionated ears. I joked about myself to my son and tried to make light of the veneer of shame I felt at the desire to buy tickets to the opera. I shook my head in disbelief that I had come to this point in my life and wondered aloud if it was all worth it.

Max stopped and looked me in the eye. “This is an adventure. You are discovering something new, something you didn’t know before. Stop worrying so much and have fun with it.” All pretense of being a wise and omnipotent parent ceased and I stood before a person whom I love and respect. “Ok, you’re right. Thank you.”

The morass that had been swirling about me for weeks calmed. I looked in the mirror later that night and saw a middle aged woman looking back at me. I smiled and saw her smile. I laughed and heard her laugh. Then a sigh of relief rose up deep within and I took a profoundly satisfying breath of air.

It was kind of thrilling to like opera.


[1] Another factor leading to Max’s immediate interest in the opera was that he had been treated to a back stage tour of the Met with his high school film & media class earlier that year. It was a real eye opener for him seeing the massive sets, the cavernous stage and the high tech HD broadcast set up. The sheer magnitude and opulence of the place blew his mind.

[2] It is important to note that the widely known and clichéd “Ride of the Valkure” which Coppola used in Apocalypse Now is from the second opera Die Walkure. Wiener Philharmoniker recorded Das Rheingold as well.

[3] Once in a Lifetime Songwriters: Brian Eno, Jerry Harrison, David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz © EG MUSIC INC;WB MUSIC CORP.;INDEX MUSIC

Ring Cycle Proposed Blog Entries (may be subject to change without prior notice. I’m just saying…)

I know myself pretty damn well and I often start things out on a strong wave of clear headedness. That clarity soon gets clouded and Doubt moves in. Shortly after that Second-Guessing takes the spare room to the right and brings Insecurity with him. Let me tell you – it gets pretty freakin’ crowded in my tiny little head. So to circumvent any sub-leasing of my brilliant mind I have formed a co-op board, of sorts, whose job is to make sure no “undesirables” try to take over the establishment. I think I’ll call them the Blog Board.

The Board has created an outline of proposed blog entries to keep me on track and productive during the transition from summer into fall. In the event Doubt comes knocking – which invariably she will – I’ll just tell her to click over to my blog and start reading. Clarity will win out.

* The Next Great Mountain for my Mind to Climb (already posted)
Introduction to my new obsession with a tiny bit of back story

– I Am Not Alone
How my teenaged son grounded me. It’s not what you think.

– The Great Acquisition
Securing Met opera tickets to Das Rheingold & Die Walkure

– Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Tickets in hand, iPod loaded with hard-core opera music, now begins my journey on a long, steep learning curve

– How can a Jew Like Listening to Wagner?
In pursuit of debunking the myths about the man and an argument for embracing the message Wagner is giving us.

– Leitmotifs – What the Heck is a Leitmotif?!
A novice boldly ventures into the deep waters of Wagnerian theory and risks her intellectual life to swim among the academic sharks of antiquity -or- a greenhorn walks into a Wagnerian bar and orders a leitmotif to go…

– Das Rheingold
My stab at a modern day interpretation of the first opera in The Ring Cycle (DR-TRC)

-MMN-

Categories: opera Tags: ,

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