Had I any interest at all in the present election, and had I any interest at all in Mr. Obama, this would have finished it off.
Art, Music, & Film: April 2008 Archives
The presence of ants in some surrealist imagery never fails to both amuse and, in some small way, horrify me. Luis Bunuel and Salvidor Dali brought this imagery to the forefront in Un Chien Andalou although it had been a staple of Dali's painting for some time before that. I won't pretend to know the significance of the ant, but it does present a compelling image for contemplation of the junction of the natural and supernatural which is where surrealism lives. (Even though its chief thinkers--not really being very profound thinkers--ever knew or acknowledged this. But then, we're talking André Breton and his crowd of absinthe-imbibing Parisomaniacs.)
Not really. Instead I had a creepy little dream in which a very punked out proto-goth androgyne was taking me somewhere for some unspecified but distinctly unsavory or unpleasant rendezvous. He asked me, "Haven't you ever defied God?"
I answered, "Of course I have. All the time. But. . ." and fortunately that little walk came to a screeching halt with the sound of the alarm.
But the question and its circumstances were salutary and rewarding because it caused me to think that while I do defy God and while I do sin and ignore the things I ought to do, and while I am imperfect in the practice of my faith and even in holding the central principles of it, nevertheless, I always do what I do knowing that God exists. That may not seem like much, but when I got down under the skin of that statement, I realized that it is not possible for me NOT to believe in God. Despite all of the arguments I have read and those I can dream up myself, the existence of God is more proven to me than any proven fact or visible reality. God exists. I know that is belief, but I have discovered the place that Mortimer Adler describes when he says that belief can be the strongest knowledge there is.
So it is for me. I cannot choose to not believe in God or to act as though I don't believe in Him. I can choose to do what I want anyway. I can choose to go against the law I know to be true. (And I frequently do both of these things.) But I can't say, "There is no God and so I'm free to do as I choose." That simply isn't an option.
The odd part is I can't tell you why there is this solid foundation. Or I can tell you why but it would be meaningless to someone who lacked it. Grace. Amazing grace. He has graced me with this gift, this rock to which I always return. I cannot escape from Him, but He is no relentless hound--no, He is an island in a cobalt sea where the breezes play day and night and I am the only person to see and enjoy its pleasant shores--or if I am not alone, the crowds on the island are as vapor and there is neither clamor nor anguish in it. When I stray far from my island, the memory of it always calls me home. It does not follow me, it sings to me and calls me back.
And here is the song I hear (though not necessarily in Dean Martin's voice--but also not necessary NOT in Dean Martin's voice.)
Return to Me
Return to me
Oh my dear I'm so lonely
Hurry back, hurry back
Oh my love hurry back I'm yours
Return to me
For my heart wants you only
Hurry home, hurry home
Won't you please hurry home to my heart
My darling, if I hurt you I'm sorry
Forgive me and please say you are mine
Return to me
Please come back bella mia
Hurry back, hurry home to my arms
To my lips and my heart
Cara mia ti amo
Solo tu, solo tu, solo tu, solo tu
Yes, God sings that to me--all of it--not that He can err or He can be the cause of my straying. But His love is in His kenosis and He, being love, can know that love hurts even when it does not desire to.
(Okay, so my theology isn't so great, I'll admit that. But theology is only as good as the purpose it serves--and if that purpose is to make one cling to God, then the theology, however inexact performs the necessary, life-giving function. We don't get into heaven based on our quiz scores.)
Friday night we went out to see the last opera of the season. This year it was Turandot. (For anyone curious that is pronounced pretty much as spelled in english--Tur-ahn-dot.) And it was magnificent. Orlando Opera company had gone all out to make certain that this 50th season closer would be a set of performances to remember, and they handily accomplished the goal. The sets, costumes, and staging were all spot-on, the orchestral unusually fine under the baton of Anton Coppola, and the singing by both hired talent and the company professionals, top-notch.
The story of the Opera is pretty repellent and ridiculous, and had me half alienated to start with--but as it played out, I was won over--which speaks to the power of Puccini's music.
The Opera is in Three Acts and starts abruptly, without an overture. I speculated that this may have been because Puccini never finished the Opera--it is his last and the music he composed for it ends somewhere in the third act. I speculate and suggest that Overtures may be among the last pieces composed for an Opera, requiring, as they do, a full range of the ideas in the remainder of the music. However, that is speculation.
What is not speculation is that while this is Puccini, it is Puccini in 1922 or so, and it reflects some of what was going on in music through the early twentieth century. There is some discordant and dissonant scoring, largely masked by the fact that the Opera takes place in China and Chinese harmonics are evident throughout the score.
Unlike Madama Butterfly, which to my mind had a single powerful, gorgeous, memorable aria--the music throughout this Opera has several memorable themes, not the least of which occurs in act three when Calaf, the hero, sings what for lack of a better analogy might be called his "Rumpelstiltskin" aria. Turandot, the Princess, is busy torturing and threatening the people of Peking to find our heroes name so that she will not have to marry him in the morning. While the people and Ping, Pang, and Pong (somewhat comic relief characters) plead with him for the sake of all to reveal it, he sings a powerful and memorable aria, which even the most casual classical listener is probably familiar with--"Nessun Dorma." (For better insights into the libretto and the meaning of all the weird goings-on, you might check out this site wherein I found the lyrics to the aria.
The performance of this aria with chorus caused a collective peril of anoxia in the audience--not a sound, not a rustle, nothing--still, quiet, attentive, rapt. And, of course, that was the intent of the composer. Probably the most magnificent of all of his Arias, in what is undoubtedly the capstone (both literally and metaphorically) of his career in Opera.
I had gone ready to hate it, from the story, from my previous Puccini experience, from the fact that I could just barely keep my eyes open. And I came away wanting to have a copy of this Opera so that I could listen to it regularly.
If anyone from the company happens to read this, Bravo and Brava. Magnifico.
Later: Our Local newspaper's review with film clips including Nessun Dorma.