Thursday night is the preview performance of DIVE: Odes for Lighea, Nik Beeson’s new opera at The Array Space. DIVE is based on Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s short story The Professor and the Siren.
That’s “siren” as in mermaid. I am feeling a bit guilty that I get to see this mermaid show, when a young girl I know –daughter of a family member– is obsessed with mermaids. I suppose this is normal, that mermaids likely succeed ponies as objects of fascination for girls of her age.
And she is not alone of course.
I could point to many great composers —for instance Schubert, Wagner, Debussy, Ravel, to name the first few who come to mind—who wrote music for someone that this little girl would instantly recognize. The stories inspiring those composers come from a multitude of places.
I recall her delight when i showed her some of the Lepage Rheingold on video with me last year, as enraptured as if she were another Alberich, seduced by the cavorting Rhine-maidens. The first 30 seconds of this clip gives you an idea.
I got her Splash on DVD, a film that helped launch the careers of Daryl Hannah and Tom Hanks, with a generous assist from John Candy & Eugene Levy. The film certainly touched a nerve in its depiction of a romance under the sea.
And I have seen a few times in the media that women can train to be mermaids: which sounds really odd when I read that. But what they’re doing is putting on some sort of fake tail, and learning how to swim as though they were mermaids. There was something on television news just a few days ago, showing this phenomenon.
Is this so different from the romantic image? For example “Ondine” appears in a poem by Aloysius Bertand and Gaugin’s painting inspired by the poem, images inviting us to dive in and drown in beauty. But the human is rejected furiously when she discovers what, we already have a mortal girlfriend? See of you notice the moment of rage when she turns away from humanity and swims off.
Or there’s Debussy’s less famous Prelude on the same poem.
The show I am seeing Thursday is perhaps a bit more serious, both in its sonorities and its philosophical ambitions –putting a mermaid (as an exemplar of the wild) and fascism (or extreme sorts of control) into a kind of dialectical opposition. Indeed when you think about it, they are perfect opposites, the difference between enforced order & natural order, or possibly order and entropy.
I say all this without having seen the show yet, but having listened to the CD a few times in my car. We no longer inhabit the sonic world of Ravel & Debussy & Wagner. Beeson & his muse Fides Krucker are 21st century visionaries. I’m eager to hear their take on a very old myth.