Sympathy for the Bedevilled

It’s an odd week.  Since seeing the COC production of Dialogues des Carmelites I have the “Salve Regina” in my head, particularly the last two pages of the score, where Blanche appears.  I also hear the complementary sonorities of Ravel’s Le gibet, whose content is decidedly at odds with the sublimity of the staging I just alluded to.   Was Poulenc at all mindful of Ravel’s huge extended chords, connoting a lyrical image of death, in his own meditation upon mortality & our entry into the afterlife?  If so it’s as though he redeemed something dark and scary.   There are other compositions i could add to the list, but i chose two that are wildly divergent that still have some overlap, in order to problematize the whole question of aesthetic judgment.  Until i heard what Ravel’s piece was “about” (meaning the program associated with that lovely music: read the poems for Gaspard de la nuit here), i loved the piece without reservation.  And after a period of disturbance –not quite revulsion, but a break in the my rapturous admiration for this piece–i am back to loving the Ravel.

Isabel Bayrakdarian as Blanche de la Force in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Dialogues des Carmélites, 2013. (Photo: Chris Hutcheson)

Which makes me wonder about the relationship of these two compositions to systems of morality (I almost typed the word with an extra T: “mortality”).  Hm, perhaps that’s a slippery concept from the same realm of relative values as artistic interpretations, in other words, so ambiguous as to be impossible to pin down definitively.  But what I am getting at is that we attribute meaning, that there’s no such thing as a meaning that exists anywhere without the assistance of the eye of the beholder attributing meaning to what they see; this is true whether we’re speaking of aesthetics (beauty or something else) or morality (good or something else).  If that’s so –and I feel very strongly that it is—then the similarity between the two compositions is rather intriguing.  Is there perhaps a macabre and nasty subtext to the Poulenc? Or is there something quasi divine lurking in the Ravel? Yes and yes I believe.

I put that out there, as I look at several tormented figures in the public eye.  I am wondering if the discernment of that eye is any different from the way we read and re-read metaphors in opera.  Some of us want to believe accusations made against political figures we dislike, and indeed are so eager that we believe before we have any proof.  Some are cynical, unready to accept anything without hard evidence.  I sometimes find myself contemplating one or the other: that is, the artistic taste of various political parties, or (to flip it around), the political tendencies of the followers of certain performing arts genres.  I know I know, it’s silly, nothing is monolithic, nothing can be reduced to that degree.  Indeed, life is polyvalent and multi-faceted, a tendency that’s only troubling to those who want neat and tidy categories.

I find myself empathizing with those currently accused of substance abuse for the simple reason that I happen to know a couple of people who have over-indulged over the years, sad drinkers & pain-killer abusers.  My drug of choice these days?  WordPress, as I seem to be addicted to the sound of my own voice on this blog.  Prose composition got me through the darkness of February –with a lot of help from the Ryerson theatre school & Feydeau—so I’m not about to judge.  I point to the similarities between so many different indulgences, some that we call addictive (alcohol, drugs, sex), some that we have not yet identified that way (the internet, work) in the same spirit as the similarity between the two compositions.  Perhaps our categories are false, our distinctions just theological posture or nerdy nattering.

When in doubt, take the compassionate path.

This entry was posted in Music and musicology, Opera, Personal ruminations & essays. Bookmark the permalink.

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