This afternoon, Daniel and I and our friend Jake went to Met Opera at the Movies, to see “Parsifal.” As we drove down I-81 to the Montage Mountain movie theater, I turned to Daniel and said, “We haven’t spoken to Sandra for a while. I need to call her tonight.”
I grew up with the New York Metropolitan Opera. I remember how my Dad used to listen to the weekly radio broadcast of Saturday matinees from the Met. He even wired the house, so he could continue to listen to the glorious music regardless of what room he happened to be in at any time. How I loved listening to those majestic voices, as they carried me to the heights and depths of some of the most stirring music ever created. While I didn’t understand the Italian or French or whatever language being sung, I was transported to storylands of my own making. In my mind’s eye, I pictured the beautiful princesses or peasant girls dancing joyously or seductively or solemnly, their cavaliers or boys next door fighting (and overpowering) the dark villains. I imagined happy endings, sealed with kisses. And what costumes I dreamed up for them!
Eventually, I learned the “real” stories of the various operas. In many cases, I preferred the ones I had invented.
But more than anything, my memories of Met Opera are tied up with my Dad. His great big smile. How he always had time for me. I even remember his fat stinky cigar fondly.
In other words, for me, opera is tied up with a sense of music representing love and family and human connection.
So, when the Met Opera started simulcasting matinees to movie theaters around the country, of course, Dad, Daniel and I found ways to go to as many shows as we can. Today’s opera was Wagner’s “Parsifal.” I have to admit that I’m not a Wagnerian. Neither is Dad, which is one of the reasons he wasn’t with us today. It’s not just because of Wagner’s famous anti-Semitism or how his operas became important propagandistic symbols for the Nazis. I find Wagner ponderous and oppressive. I prefer the lyricism of Italian or French opera.
However, I wanted to see this production of “Parsifal,” which has been getting rave reviews. And, yes, it was brilliant. The stark, post-modern set and staging was crisp, with clean, sharp lines and Dali-like spaciousness. The performances were breathtaking. Then, again, that’s to be expected; it is, after all, the Met.
And it was long-winded – over 5 hours. That wouldn’t have bothered me, if it hadn’t been for the fact that it was classic Wagner with his heavy-handed symbolism and anti-humanism. I won’t go into a full critique, because that isn’t my purpose today in writing about “Parsifal.” Suffice it to say that the opera is about a gorgeous, innocent Aryan boy-man who is the Christ-figure. Only his purity will save the day. That includes hate-filled portrayals of women as temptresses, who deserve to drown in a pool of blood, so that he may remain pure enough to save the band of chosen knights of the Grail.
Human touch is sin.
Love can only be spiritual.
A kiss is the soul’s destruction incarnate.
God’s blessings are given only to those who turn from their own humanity.
Yes, I loved the music, the set, the performances. But nothing about the story, the themes, the essential Wagnerian aspects of it spoke to my heart.
When we came home, I was about to call our dear friend Sandra, when I saw that I had a message from her. Sandra’s 22-year-old son Savion has killed himself.
I imagine that Wagner might approve of a gallant boy going to his death. I don’t.
I imagine that Wagner believed that there is an afterlife, a Valhalla for heroes, a paradise for the pure.
I don’t know what comes after death. All I know about is life and the connections we can make in the here and now.
Human touch is the true glory of this world.
Physical love can be transcendent.
A kiss, a caress, an embrace is the greatest gift we can give our souls.
If there is a God, her/his blessings are found in the moments and days we spend with our loved ones.
Thank goodness, we don’t live in Wagner’s universe. I know Savion was loved, is loved. I hope Sandra and his sister Ataia can find some solace in that.