Back to school: open-hearted, open-minded

I’m inspired by last night’s announcement of Canadian Opera Company’s 2014-2015 season.  Anyone bumping into me today will see that my appetite is indeed so whetted that they might prefer to run in the opposite direction.  I can’t help myself.

Today’s reminder email from the COC concerning the Saturday opening of their new Cosi fan tutte directed by Atom Egoyan included not just a press release but the director’s note.  In my current state I’m likely to read way too much into this, but wtf, what’s a blog for if not to go off half-cocked, to propose wacky theories in plain view?  It wouldn’t be the first time.

In this state everything becomes a mirror, everything supports the argument because there is nothing anywhere that is off topic, nothing that can’t be an omen or a parable demonstrating a key message.

Egoyan’s note begins in the most concrete terms:

For those familiar with Così fan tutte, this production will be immediately surprising in two ways. First of all, we are taking the alternative title of the work and using it literally. It takes place in “A School for Lovers,” with Don Alfonso the teacher of this school in which he demonstrates to his students the laws of attraction.

Indeed.  While we will watch them in their onstage learning, we will ourselves be exposed to lessons as well.

Now picture some writers scratching their heads, attempting to figure out a daring opera production: possibly this one.  Now of course writers who are scratching their heads never say “I don’t understand” or “please help me understand”.  No, when you put a critic on the spot their default position often is defensive or dismissive.  How good are you at admitting ignorance, let alone incompetence?  Now let’s put you on the spot, working for the media and ask for your instant comments about something you didn’t understand.  Indeed, if you’re accustomed to being an “expert” you may not even be in touch with your ignorance, but may assume that the interpretation that bewilders you must automatically be bad because it was not intelligible: because you’re experiencing those odd feelings in the pit of your stomach.

I venture into this because

  • My sense of inspiration, due to the COC program announced yesterday
  • A few conversations recently with people who not only fail to share my enthusiasm (did they want to run for cover at the sight of me? Or smack me upside the head?), but remind me of the people in that paragraph above

Both the event yesterday and today’s email had me wondering if there’s a broader educational initiative underway.  PR is after all education. Propaganda? teaching with extreme prejudice.

First I’m recalling the usual (old) assumption—the prevailing philosophy in arts marketing for a generation or two—that arts audiences are built by exposing youth to art (paintings, opera, …you name it), and thereby building literacy, awareness, acceptance and eventually loyalty.  In this colonial outpost –so the thinking goes—the unwashed masses would resist, while the critics assist in the evangelism of the various arts institutions.

In theory the younger generation would be properly indoctrinated, but it didn’t quite work that way. And of course the time has come to throw the idea away.  Audiences—at least some parts thereof—have often shown themselves to be much hipper, much smarter, much deeper than the critics.  The old assumption broke down long ago.

I can’t help seeing that school onstage as a school for operagoers, a school showing both those onstage and the implicated viewers their folly, their weaknesses, and possibly, new paths.

Here’s another sentence from Egoyan’s note that again could be directed at the viewers, particularly the critics.

As Frida Kahlo’s painting “Two Fridas” makes clear, the heart can be brutally exposed, with surgical scissors in one hand, and the romantic talisman of a beloved brooch in the other.

The painting may be mentioned because it’s part of the production (possibly in the design?), but whether it’s in the opera or not, Frida’s double self-portrait has much to teach us (for example, to see the whole painting and to explore subtexts & meanings see this site).  Last night we were reminded that Egoyan is coming back to Die Walkure, that opera about love & twins. A Jungian would say that when we speak of the other, especially a duplicate other, we’re really speaking of ourselves. Are we brave enough to follow those incisions / explorations to their logical conclusion?

I admire those who are open-hearted, although there are easier ways than incisions to achieve that end.  Frida is being strong & brave in exposing her condition through the painting.  Vulnerability is ultimately strength, as Brene Brown says in her TED talk.

Do we dare come to the opera with an open heart, to learn, to feel what it has to show us, rather than sitting in pompous judgment as though we already knew everything?  In that case why go at all?

In Siegfried the Wanderer asks Mime a series of riddles, intent on helping him find out the solution to a problem he needs solved: how to repair the shattered sword.  Of course Mime is so busy showing off what he knows, rather than asking the question he needs to ask (and admitting his own ignorance), that he clumsily forfeits his own head.  When we’re in the presence of beauty or truth or goodness, are we so busy showing off, that we fail to have an open-hearted encounter?  Are we so busy in our vanity & self-love that we fail to get out of our own heads?

…and miss the show right in front of us?

Sorry if I keep asking questions where my bias shows.  I have no idea whether I will like this new production or not.  But I must open my heart & my mind too, and yes, be prepared to love it completely, prepared to let it have its way with me.  Otherwise, as I conceal a part of myself, I am not really there, not really in a position to even see and hear.

There’s one other tantalizing phrase in Egoyan’s note, even if I am likely off on a complete tangent:

For the true libertine such as Don Alfonso, the total lack of rationale behind the laws of attraction is a cause for alarm and certainly a subject worth illuminating to his students.

Now of course just Sunday night (click if you didn’t see what i wrote already) I watched Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni, the second of three Mozart operas with libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte.  Is Alfonso perhaps a grown up version of the Don?  Indeed at one time I wondered if for a time Mozart & Da Ponte were themselves libertines.  There’s a fascinating gap in the Mozart correspondence –nothing massive, just a couple of weeks –while Mozart is away from family, and with Da Ponte.

In parting, I offer you a glimpse of Thomas Allen, who plays our “libertine”, in another incarnation (the prequel?) namely Don Giovanni.

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

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