Tuesday, March 07, 2006

First Opera

To pronounce the word “Opera” you must first open your mouth as if you’re going to yawn. My wife got a pair of opera tickets from a friend at work who had to attend a family funeral. It was our first opera ever. Before the opera, at the Lyric Opera House in lovely downtown Chicago, we went to get some coffee, sweets, and a salad. At the Lyric, our seats were way back on the fourth floor, in the nosebleed section. The opera was in Italian and the English superscripts ran across the top of the curtain, which helped us keep up with the narrative. Of course, an opera is a story.

Here’s the story of Orfeo Ed Euridice: A man (Orfeo) grieves over the death of his beloved wife (Euridice). The funeral procession is especially somber. When it finally disperses, Orfeo falls to the earth, belting out his sorrow loud and long enough to awaken Amor (better known as Cupid). Vulnerable to sappy pleas, Amor offers Orfeo the chance to reclaim his beloved from the Elysian Fields, which in Greek mythology is the abode of the blessed in the afterlife. But there’s a catch, as it is with love: Orfeo must not look upon his resurrected Euridice, nor explain the deal to her until they have safely climbed out of the underworld to the terrestrial surface. If he defaults, then she’s gone forever, forced to suffer death again, while Orfeo is condemned to a lifetime of unrelenting grief. He accepts the deal, and to the gates of Hades he descends and makes his appeal to retreive his wife. He’s rebuffed at first, but apparently his agonizing but beautiful song draws forth the sympathy from the staunch and terrible guards and wins their permission. From an underground chamber, Eurdice emerges from death and sheds her burial gown. Overjoyed but conscious of the deal, Orfeo turns his head and begins to lead his beloved through the cavernous below. Eurdice, though, is eager to see her darling now and wonders why such a cold reception: no gaze, no hug, just some song, long and hilly. Like a woman, she demands an answer; and, like a man, he says (in effect): “Just obey me, woman!” And, like a woman again, this all has to make sense to her, so she pleads, protests, and finally stops and forces him to look upon her, for she is unwilling to go any further without knowing the condition of her man's feelings (good for her). At this point, however, she begins her second slow death and falls upon her face. Orfeo says, “I told you so! See?! You can never listen, can you! Oh no! You got to be pushy!” Actually, he doesn’t say any of that. What he does is sing another amazing burst of melodious sorrow, a curvy lament with surprising evocative and splendidly powerful spikes of pain and regret. And just when despair crawls up his neck to choke him, Amor makes another appearance. And just when you think the tragedy has come to a dark and hurtful end, and you think that Amor is going to dive into a rant that bemoans the weakness of Orfeo, the creature shows favor to Orfeo, again. Amor gives Orfeo what he had always wanted so sincerely. Euridice comes back to life. They embrace and rejoin the world and the townsfolk, who are all happy like crazy.

This is not a summary. It’s the whole story that took 90 minutes to "tell," with repeated refrains and writhing and winding melody.

I enjoyed the opera quite a bit because I think that its message is truthful: It is human nature to falter and err; and it is the nature of Love to relent. Sincerity trumps imperfection, and Love (al-Wadud) recognizes that. In more direct terms (sorry to get “religious”), what we hope in the Hereafter is not justice. I don’t think anyone can handle that. It’s mercy and love that we want, forgiveness of faults and errors. Our song is sincerity, some devotion, however imperfect, and a lot of hope, genuine, however unreasonable. Love furs the cracks of human fault, and does so graciously and mercifully.


Blogger Unconventionally_Urs said...

Really amazing opera story. and how well you have told it! You are so right, it is love, mercy and forgiveness that a soul craves, here, and the hereafter.

3/07/2006 10:28 PM  
Anonymous hamidm said...

Well, I've read variations of this story before. Actually it originates from ancient Greece and Orfeo is known as Orpheus. The original version is more pessimistic. After Orpheus turns around to look at his beloved, she is condemned to reamin in the underworld while he DOES suffer a life of grief. There is no cupid figure.

Still I agree with you. The very basis of our nature is to love and be loved. However, it is important that one doesn't limit oneself to love of created things only.

3/08/2006 10:31 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Thanks, Hamid. It's good to know of the other versions. But I'm glad there's one with happy ending. And I'm glad it's what I saw. I thought the opera was heading toward a tragic finale. Thankfully, it did not. A happy ending is, I think, the more truthful one. Again, love relents, even in the face of error.

3/10/2006 10:24 PM  

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