The siren song of opera
Once in a while life hands you a moment that you know will never come again; it is a moment one savors for as long as one is allowed to hold such moments.
Opera is one of the finest moments for me. I wish I could tell you why. I remember the first opera I heard: “Marriage of Figaro.” It opened with a man, down on one knee, measuring the length of his marriage bed. There is a moment when the house lights go down and the stage lights come up that is absolutely captivating.
It is like the land between wake and sleep, when the lethargic, slumbering mind takes account of itself and the day ahead. Not exactly a no-man’s land, but a space in which it is possible to confuse dream and reality.
That is the moment in opera or theater that I am talking about.
That was the moment I experienced recently in attending the local performance of “La Boheme,” an opera about young, struggling, starving artists, two of whom have a love affair that holds itself out against insurmountable odds. Subsequently the young woman, with whom the artist has fallen in love, succumbs to consumption.
“La Boheme” is not a story about dying; it is a story about love that lives on, when the body has died. It is a story about love that rises above poverty, love that extends itself above jealousy and beyond the petty smallness of everyday life; about love that elevates one out of time and place, into places of the heart.
The opera is set in Paris but it could be set in the Power and Light District. Willa Cather said through one of her characters in “O Pioneers” that there are really only one or two stories, they just keep getting told year after year, generation after generation.
There is a moment in life when one is sitting in the audience, waiting for the house lights to dim and the stage lights to come on, a sublimely, wonderful moment. When one looks about the audience, as I did that night, and found fellow travelers from each stage and age of life’s transitions — from days at KU, to fellowships at the Menninger Foundation, to days most recent. Many of us encountered each other during intermission and fell into the pattern of one another’s lives, as though there had been no break at all.
Only later in relating the evening’s activities to another did I discover that she and her husband were there as well. It was one of those moments when the circle comes full-around, when the beginning is an end and the end a beginning.
Love, deeply felt, fully lived, is a song within a song, a story within a story, one sublime moment that comes once in a lifetime and plays on, after the stage lights are dimmed.