Lint-Trap 5/7/01: The Last Day Dawns


The Last Day Dawns


Diana took me for a walk yesterday. Or maybe it's fairer to say her dog took us both for a walk. 65 pounds of pure muscle. And Diana doesn't believe in these new-fangled leashes that extend and contract--her's is old-fashioned leather, no give at all. So we not only walked for almost 3 miles, we did weight training at the same time. It was a little like water skiing without the water.

When we got back, water all around. I was happy to see that the dog was still panting long after I had stopped. The highlight of the trip was two young kids who wanted to pet the dog. One was scarcely taller than the dog, who, despite panting and slobbering from the effort of hauling me around, was friendly as always. "Gee!" the little one said, "He has a big tongue! Huger than mine!".

So all my personal mail, saved of 5 years, is off the machines, and I'm about to pack up my home machine and take it to work. I'll be a "voice grade" man until my sexy new sattelite system arrives (who knows when--a week or two), and I'll sure miss my text editor when editing on Windows. So I thought I'd do one last entry over my ISDN line (which, not that it is being retired, has been working flawlessly). I also spent some time catching up on some of my favorite journals (Earth to Dawn--come back, we love you).

I was struck by Viv's entry, appropriately for Friday the 13th, where she complains about how sinless her life has become. No somoking, no hankey-pankey, and now she can't even drink without getting a headache.

I've never smoked (my parents died of Cancer after smoking 2 packs a day-- any smoker who wants motivation to quit, just talk to me...). My drinking has never been particularly extreme (fun when I think of it, but I don't seem to think of it much). Of course, I eat, but everybody does that. If I've done it a bit more than was good for me, and surely enjoyed the process, I'm fixing that.

So, Viv, if you want to develop some new sins, let me suggest...Opera. You can easily spend far more on Opera than on booze--in fact, I suspect a San Francisco Opera subscription rivals a sizable cocaine habit. Your senses are assaulted--you get to sit in an overheated theatre at $1 a minute (after paying almost as much to park!), join the happy throngs in long queues at intermission--first for coffee, then for the restrooms.

But you do get your mind blown. Regularly, and in so many different ways. Colors, sounds, singing, orchestra, drama, costumes, lights. For some reason, when I go to the Opera I do indeed come home humming the melodies, and the experience sticks with me for many many days. A good dinner, even good wine, doesn't have the staying power (except on my waistline).

So I'm seeing Aida in June, and I'm already anticipating it. Verdi at his best on his favorite theme--the conflict of love and political duty-- with spectacle that is decadent as only the Victorians contemplating the third world could imagine it.

And then, besides the anticipation for the experience it triggers off all the memories of every performance I've ever seen. Starting with the original Cinerama film, where hi-fidelity sound and a wide screen brought the Triumphal March to my 12-year-old eyes and ears with mind-bending effect. How strange it is, in retrospect, that I didn't start loving opera until my late 30s.

Actually, some of the German opera I could handle in my 20's--the ring, and Lulu. I grew up on the former--my father's favorite (but only the orchestrial music--no singing for him). But the Italians were too emotional for my uptight geekiness at that age.

Then my chorus director hurt his back. He had been a subscriber to the Metropolitan Opera for decades, and had a first-row balcony seat to die for. He couldn't sit through the long operas. So he sold me his ticket to Der Rosenkavelier and also Verdi's Don Carlo. Two nights that changed my life.

I asked him what Der Rosenkavelier was like (again, I knew only the orchestrial excerpts). He said "It's like bathing for hours in warm milk". And it is. The only difference is that the plot grabbed me totally, and tears streamed down my face at the ending (as they have every time I've seen it).

But Don Carlo singlehandedly changed my impression of Italian Opera, and Verdi in particular. He was writing at the same time as the Victorian melodramas held sway here ("I can't pay the rent!" "You must pay the rent!"). His plots often walk that narrow line between dull and silly. But the music is so wonderful. And it's all about emotion--the whole point of an Italian opera, so far as I can tell, is to cook up a second-grade-level plot that allows every character to express every possible human emotion every half hour throughout the opera--usually several singers are expressing several different emotions at the same time, with the conductor serving as referee. And the Grand Inquisitor scene--three bass voices, growling and snarling, cooking up sheer evil, made my hair stand on end. I'd never heard anything like it. All of a sudden, I 'got it'! That's why people love Opera.

And ever since, I have.

Thank you for reading.

Copyright © 2001 Pete Stevens. All rights reserved.