Evolving past jealousy in opera

I was thinking about jealousy today.  It’s funny how sometimes a word can come up over and over again.

I confessed to some envy in my last review, admiring the way Stephen Walsh wrote about Debussy.  I don’t know if I’d call it “jealousy”. But I think of envy and jealousy as variations on the same impulse. Feed and fertilize envy and you get jealousy, or so I believe.

Please note, I put a lid on such things.  Perhaps I am in denial? But I believe we all have those impulses.  What is a social contract if not a promise not to surrender to our animal instincts?  The traffic light is red, and while I may want to get home NOW..? Yes I wait patiently: because it’s the law, and because I obey the traffic light without giving it a second thought.

I love this sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  We’re watching a hominid species taking an evolutionary step that presumably leads to man.  Watch him take up the femur and notice that it can be wielded as a club.  And within the sequence we see that happen.

Earlier in the “Dawn of Man” sequence, we watch as one family group of hominids chase another away from their watering hole.  Would we call this jealousy or just the survival instinct?  And with the new skills associated with the femur (perhaps under the influence of the black monolith ex machina: Kubrick & Arthur C Clarke offering a particular rationale for our evolutionary leap), the waterhole is taken back, the future secure.

The point is, at one time jealousy had an evolutionary function. Without it we might not be here.

And what about humankind in 2019?  Do we still need jealousy?  Is it perhaps a bit like our tailbones, a vestige whose purpose has been exhausted?

Or to put it another way, what if the femurs we’re wielding might bring about our extinction?  Whether they’re nuclear or biological or other subtler kinds of warfare, these weapons might not be conducive to our ongoing survival on this planet.  I’m not about to suggest that the world has become peaceful, just because most of the killing happens on other continents (the daily death-toll from gun violence in the USA notwithstanding).

But I wonder if we will learn to outgrow our violent nature before we kill one another.

Did you notice the headline?  You may be wondering when I’ll connect this discussion to opera, indeed, whether there is any connection.  But there is.

Today a friend asked “What do you find helpful when jealousy comes up about what other artists have achieved?” It’s funny because I was already conscious of it in yesterday’s review (a writer I envied).  I thought of three things to tell my friend.

  1. Years ago I had to invent a mantra that I didn’t even believe. “There’s enough for everybody.” Believe it and behave as though it’s true even if it’s a lie.  Whether you’re auditioning or applying for a grant or simply going to see others perform, you must believe this.  In fact recalling the conversation about opera singers in this country: there really isn’t enough work.   But we must behave as if there’s really enough for everyone.  It’s as though we’re all in this together, not fighting one another for the last drop of water or last spot in a show.Do I sound like a radical yet?
  2. This one is easier. You should bask in their success. When you see someone succeed, don’t be jealous. You must cheer, applaud, and celebrate their success.  Why? Because if they can do it so can you.  At least that’s the implication.  Again, it’s a kind of roleplay to suggest that we’re all in this together.  Sure, my voice is old and shot, and yours is young and hot, but when I applaud I celebrate your success because it’s everyone’s success.
  3. And FINALLY this one is the actual logical reason to purge jealousy. OMFG I wish I had recognized this one sooner, when I was younger.  I hope I don’t sound like a cynic.  But here’s the thing. Theatre, opera, film, they are all collaborative. You can’t do it without other people, ultimately without real friendship. And that means positive karma is essential.People don’t want to be around jealousy. If you’re jealous? you’re in the wrong business..!

I wonder, is the artistic community actually a more evolved version of society, or at least striving to get there?

Now of course if this conversation includes persons from the opposite side of the political spectrum from myself, they would say that’s an arrogant & self-congratulatory thing to say. Maybe.  I don’t mind criticism, am not afraid of ridicule.

I only know what I feel.  As an older artist looking at the community of young artists –actors, singers, musicians, writers–I know what I see.  They look out for one another, they model caring and empathy as part of their creative practice, and it’s not an act. And perhaps in the process we stop smacking one another with a femur and move on to the next evolutionary level, a real community.

Why not.

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

1 Response to Evolving past jealousy in opera

  1. Pingback: Episode V: beyond popularity | barczablog

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