Archive for Thursday, August 27, 2009

Understood, in any language

August 27, 2009

On a recent Sunday we were seated in the Goppert Theatre at Avila College.

The audience was an amalgam.

A man in his late 30s dressed in dark blue polo shirt, shorts, and Topsiders. An elegantly dressed woman in her 80s. A couple in causal dress — he in khakis and a patterned shirt, she with her hair pulled back at the neck and cascading down her back, wearing a dress that could only be described as one worn by an earth mother. A young woman in an evening gown and her partner, a black suit and tie. Four young college women in semi-formal evening dress.

The air was cool and dry and served as a respite from a week of high heat and thick humidity. The college campus was well groomed and had a garden here and there filled with a brilliant array of summer flowers, tall, green, leafy trees, overhung greenways and sidewalks.

This assorted and sundry group was attending a performance of “Don Pasquale” by the Kansas City Civic Opera. In short, “Don Pasquale” is about a nephew who is written out of his uncle’s will because the nephew has fallen in love with a penniless woman. Much of opera is about love and conflict and human fallibility.

“Don Pasquale” was first performed in l843 and has endured through the centuries. This particular production was set in the l930s in Los Angeles. Like most opera, it is a story within a story; it is fair, I think, to say that the theme, which runs through it like an unbroken thread, is that what one hopes for in the end is to have loved and been loved, whatever the circumstances, and be willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to do so.

“Don Pasquale” is filled with lovely arias — those heart-rendering, soul-moving love songs. This opera was sung in Italian; though captions appeared above the stage, the screen was unreadable. One does not have to understand the words to be moved by their meaning; one does not have to be familiar with opera to understand the gestures and behavior of the performers. One simply has to have a love of music and a yearning.

I cannot say exactly what that yearning is except to hearken back to Willa Cather’s “My Antonia,” where she notes there is a universal longing to become part of something greater than oneself; not only something larger, but magnificent and grace-filled.

In “A Wagner Matinee,” Cather writes about an aged aunt who travels to New York City from her farm in Nebraska to attend an opera with her nephew. The nephew believes his aunt’s stony silence means that music has died within her, until the nephew notes a tear sliding down her roughened cheek, just as I noted the tear sliding down the cheek of the elderly woman seated in front of me. Such yearning, hidden perhaps within age or apparel, endures.

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