I got to hear Michelle De Young perform The Song of the Earth at the Cleveland Orchestra.
Here she is performing a piece from Tristan und Isolde. The Cleveland Orchestra will perform that next year as a part of their Centennial Season.
I got to hear Michelle De Young perform The Song of the Earth at the Cleveland Orchestra.
Here she is performing a piece from Tristan und Isolde. The Cleveland Orchestra will perform that next year as a part of their Centennial Season.
This video is a kind of “two-for.”
I heard the Cleveland Orchestra perform this piece as a celebration of my fifth year of being cancer free. Now, I did not hear Sasha Cooke perform the piece, but I did hear her sing the “Pie Jesu” in Durufle’s Requiem. So, I am posting Sasha Cooke performing in Song of the Earth by Mahler.
Saturday morning I woke up after a very strange dream. I dreamed that I was in Toronto, and I had tickets to see the Phantom of the Opera at the Pantages Theater, but I was late. I was wandering through the lobby, the store, and even beneath and outside the theater, but I could not find my way inside the actual theater itself. (Kind of appropriate in a way.)
I am not surprised by this dream, since I had actually listened to music from The Phantom of the Opera for the first time since college. (I do have thoughts about it that will likely feature into another post or two.) This was after I had stumbled across The Nostalgia Chick’s review of the completely underwhelming 2004 movie version and her Loose Canon review of The Phantom of the Opera movies on Youtube. I had seen The Phantom of the Opera in Toronto at the age of ten, (with Colm Wilkinson, eat your heart out musical theater fans!) and I had been smitten with the show. With the benefit of hindsight, this is not surprising (more on that later) and I became one of Youtuber Chez Lindsay’s “sad teenage girls” who was obsessed with the show. It was the great ambition of my life to see the show again, which I did at sixteen. (To quote my friend, “That’s the perfect age to see the show.”) I have very little memories of the show, and yet, if I had to pick one day as the happiest day of my life, it would probably be that day. I went home and wrote a flowery review of the show in my diary, which I no longer have. (No doubt that is for the best, since it would only serve to embarrass me now. I actually used the phrase magnum opus.)
I stopped caring for the show when I was in college. I was a history/theater double major by that point, and I suppose The Phantom of the Opera was never going to survive reading Peter Brook’s The Empty Space. The Phantom of the Opera, and indeed, all musical theater, seemed a juvenile art form best appreciated by sad teenage girls. In the maturity of my early 20’s (ha ha!), I could easily laugh at the melodrama of shows like Les Miserables. Cosette’s fevered lines of young love are my favorite examples. “Does he know I’m alive? Do I know if he’s real?” (What does the latter line even mean? Does she suspect that Marius is a holographic projection? Utter nonsense.) I also began to be exposed to better music. In an effort to say “Fuck you Brittney Spears,” I began to buy solo albums by Kiri Te Kanawa, Renee Flemming, Cecelia Bartoli, and Sumi Jo. The Phantom of the Opera was placed in the dustbin of childhood next to Big Bird. A reviewer of the 2004 movie declared that The Phantom of the Opera is the kind of show that is produced when a twelve year old girl storms off to her room screaming and after crying for twenty minutes, she writes a Broadway musical. I laughed out loud at this review because I felt that it was true. I still think it is true.
Fast forward to last January, when I watched Chez Lindsay on Youtube. I don’t know why but I began to listen to the music again, and I watched the 25th Anniversary performance at the Royal Albert Hall. I still agree with the reviewer who said that the The Phantom of the Opera is the kind of musical written by a twelve year old girl in a fit of emotion. However, I also agree with Nostalgia Chick when she says, “The Phantom of the Opera is flawed, but it works. It’s kind of the perfect musical in the way that Independence Day is a perfect film.”
That’s an excellent analogy. Independence Day is a bad film, but I defy anyone not to stand up and cheer at Bill Pullman’s speech.
Returning to The Phantom of the Opera, I want to address my friend’s belief that sixteen is the perfect age to see The Phantom of the Opera. She’s almost correct, but I would actually place it earlier. I would say that if you really want to mess with the head of an eleven or twelve year old girl, there is no better way than to take her to a production of The Phantom of the Opera. She will love the show, but she won’t fully understand why she loves the show. This makes the pull of the show even more powerful; it is a pull that she cannot explain or understand. A sixteen year old girl would also love the show, but she would also have a greater sense of self awareness. She could say to herself, “Of course I love the show! The mysterious, slightly scary guy whisks the girl away in the middle of her night, wearing her nightgown and takes her to his secret lair. While they’re there, he runs his hands up and down her body while singing ‘Touch me, trust me. Savor each sensation. Open up your mind. Let your fantasies unwind!’ Then she wakes up in his bed. What’s not to love?” My friend told me it was around that point in her life when she listened to “The Music of the Night” and it suddenly dawned on her, “Hey! This song is all about sex!” An eleven or twelve year old girl would be old enough to appreciate the sexuality in the show, but young enough not to fully understand it, which would only strengthen the hold it has on her.
A quote I found online sums it up quite nicely.
Phantom was practically the soundtrack to my sexual awakening as an early teen. It spoke to how exquisitely sweet and tremulous and yet dangerous and overwhelming that time period is. For me the Phantom was carnality- mysterious, forbidden, dangerous but sweetly calling. Something I knew was there but couldn’t quite grasp. Christine was (of course) me- alone in the world (aren’t all pre-teens convinced of this) and a seemingly innocent girl who felt powerful and inexplicable feeling and the dark call of sexuality. Raoul was a parody of the sexless romance we expect from young women. “The Point of No Return”, to me, was the key song. It really kind of spelled out what was really going on under all the stuff about ballerinas and chandeliers.
I thought about that a lot when I stumbled upon Chris Mann’s version of Music of the Night. I know that scent is the sense most closely linked to memory, but hearing has to be close. Hearing certain songs takes me back in time to specific memories, and hearing Chris Mann’s rendition of Music of the Night certainly had that affect. I was brought back to the world of theatrical excitement and sexual awakening. As I listened, I asked myself, “Would I see this show again?” For a day, I thought, “Yes! I want to re-enter that world!”
Nostalgia is incredibly powerful and seductive. I have been thinking about that a lot recently, ever since the election, when a large portion of my country made it clear that they fear the future and want to seek refuge in a long vanished, quasi-imaginary past. Apparently I am not alone in this reflection. I recently read a review of Retrotopia by Zygmunt Bauman, a book in which the author describes the modern world as wishing to retreat from the modern world and an unknown future, and seek refuge in the tribe, or the womb. The prevailing feeling of the world right now is not hope. It is cowardice.
I am not sure if this is truly new on a national, political, or cultural level. I wonder if there was a sense of optimism and hope about the future after the Somme. It is one thing to praise the march of scientific progress when it brings electricity and running water; another thing when the boys are murdered by the millions. But new or not, the prevailing wind in the world is to look backward. The review ends with a quote by Svetlana Boym. “Survivors of the twentieth century, we are all nostalgic for a time when we were not nostalgic. But there seems no way back.”
Considering that the prevailing wind is nostalgia, I suppose it is not surprising that I wanted to momentarily return to that world. In many ways, nostalgia is what drove my love of theater in the years after I saw the Phantom of the Opera in Toronto. I was fortunate to see shows downtown at the Cleveland Playhouse and Playhouse Square as a part of my school years. Every time I went down to Playhouse Square, I imagined I was going to Pantages to see the Phantom of the Opera again. I wanted so badly to have that experience again, to see a show that moved me the way it had when I was a child.
And yet, I do not know if I would ever see The Phantom of the Opera again, because I know that I cannot re-enter the lost world. The Phantom of the Opera closed in Toronto more than a decade ago. I recently went to see what was playing at the Pantages Theater and quickly discovered that the theater has been renamed! Furthermore, they no longer seem to have a show with an open ended run, but rather a series of shows with fixed runs. The current touring production of The Phantom of the Opera is a new staging of the show, not the Hal Prince/Maria Bjornson production that is still running on Broadway and the West End.
But more importantly, even if I went to New York and saw the show, I would never have the same experience that I had when I was sixteen. For one thing, I am more emotionally stable and (I hope) more mature than I was when I was sixteen. I have had far more experience with music, literature, and art than I have had since I saw it at ten and sixteen. I also saw the show shortly after my parents had divorced. We struggled financially and the fact that I was able to see the show at all gave me such hope for the future. I am in a different place now.
I am OK with that. It would be wrong for me to try to recreate the theatrical experiences of my past. That is actually contrary to the nature of theater. Theater is, by nature, ephemeral. In a very real sense, it is the performance equivalent of a sand mandala. Once the sand mandala is completed, the mandala is destroyed to demonstrate the impermanent, transient nature of the world. Theater is much the same way. As soon as a show ends, the stage is struck and the actors move onto the next projects. Even if an audience member sees the same show, with the same actors, on a different night, the show will be different the next night, because that is the nature of theater.
I remember writing a review for a production of William Inge’s Picnic which was staged at my college. On the second night I saw the show, one of the actress had a mishap where her shoe fell off during a particularly intense scene. When the scene was over, she picked up the shoe and cradled it before putting it on and walking upstairs. I wrote in my review that the actress’ reaction made me question whether or not the shoe falling off was a mistake. My professor wrote on my paper, “It wasn’t a mistake. It’s just what happened.” Theater is full of those moments; that’s one of the most thrilling qualities of the art form.
I do not think that I will be able to completely resist the siren call of nostalgia. After all, Svetlana’s quote makes it clear that ours is a nostalgic age. Our age does not look forward to either the Christian arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven or the Marxist vision of the proletariat revolution. We look backwards to the Good Old Days, and we are trying to recapture them. In terms of theater, there are times when I miss the thrill that I experienced when I was young. That is not new. Even when I was young and I went to see shows for school, I partly wanted to recapture the thrill I experienced when I first saw The Phantom of the Opera. I never captured the same thrill; instead I had many other, different thrills. I can’t wait for the next thrill.
Despite that, I know that occasionally I will listen to “Music of the Night,” and allow myself to experience the power of nostalgia. And the power of the “Music of the Night.”
This video reminds me of an episode of Mythbusters.
Usually I post art that I like. This is not one of those times.
(image courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Now I love Peter Paul Rubens’ art. There is a sensuality in his paintings that is vastly different than chaste Renaissance paintings. But the whole Super Sexy Jesus vibe is just weird.
This is a triptych, combination of three paintings (a large one in the center and two small ones on the side) which is common above altars in churches. According to Wikipedia, the saint on the left is st. John the Baptist and on the right is St. Martina.
I do not post many videos of mezzo sopranos, partly because they do not get the lead parts in Operas. The leads go to sopranos, and the mezzos are witches, bitches, and britches (boys).
A mezzo soprano is a voice in between the soprano and contralto range. Not only is the mezzo voice a little deeper than the soprano, but it is a heavier sound. The soprano frequently has a lighter, brighter sound but the mezzo soprano’s voice is darker and weightier, but no less beautiful.
Here is Elina Garanca singing Una Voce Poco Fa, from the Barber of Seville. The piece is a joyful portrayal of a young girl in love who will kill anyone who gets in the way of her and her love.
I was not expecting to write this post, but I kept thinking about the idea of Rey as symbolic of a Religious Virgin and what that would mean for the film (and the potential of Reylo.)
In my previous post, I wrote about the idea of Rey staying single in the films. I argued that, rather than being a trail blazing decision, a single Rey would fit the pattern for both the proverbial Woman Warrior Virgin and the Religious Virgin. I also wrote that I don’t think that Disney should use the symbolism of the Religious Virgin since I think that would ultimately fail.
Despite the fact that I don’t think that Disney should use this symbolism, I can’t help but contemplate what that symbolism would be, and how it would affect the story, and the possibility of Reylo.
A cursory overview of the stories of Religious Virgins reveal common themes.
1 The Religious Virgin vows never to marry and/or engage in sex, often going to great lengths to maintain this vow, and this allows her to channel divine power.
The Religious Virgin story always begin with a young woman taking a vow of virginity. These women face strong objections from their families and usually the larger society as a whole. These women will also go to great lengths to uphold their vow. However, the Religious Virgin, by virtue of upholding her vow, is able to channel divine power, granting her abilities we would see as superpowers today. (St. Catherine of Sienna could be in two locations at once; soldiers attempt to burn St. Agnes at the stake but she will not burn; St. Teresa of Avila levitates.) \
Another example of divine power is St. Cecelia, a Religious Virgin who was forced to marry a man. According to the legend, she tells him on her wedding night that she is guarded by an angel who will kill her husband if he dare touches her. Her husband, intrigued, agrees to be baptized, after which he can see the angel guarding his wife. Her husband agrees to respect his wife’s vow and the two never have sex, despite their marriage.
In the Middle Ages, virgins in general were also seen in a mystical way. For example, the best way to see a unicorn was to take a virgin into the woods. A unicorn, being a pure creature, would be attracted to the virgin’s presence and place his head in the virgin’s lap. Even without the addition of superpowers, the Religious Virgin takes the vow of virginity because it is easier for a virgin to achieve salvation than a married woman, and the virgin will enjoy a higher status in heaven than a married woman.
2 Male sexuality is a demonic force.
The Religious Virgin stories are frequently criticized for promoting a negative view of female sexuality. This is not entirely correct. In the Religious Virgin stories, female sexuality is not so much negatively portrayed as it is absent. (Critics will point out that this absence can promote negative attitudes about female sexuality, and they are correct.) However, these stories do strongly feature male sexuality, and in these stories, male sexuality is always a threatening, violent, malevolent force that causes pain, suffering, destruction, and death. (Depressing? Yes. Wrong? Not really.) A man desires to marry St. Agnes, and as a result, St. Agnes is sent to a brothel, tied to a stake and burned, and finally beheaded. A man desires to marry St. Lucy and he has his soldiers gouge out her eyes and then she is beheaded. A man desires to marry St. Agatha and he has his soldiers cut off her breasts and leaves her to die in prison. We see this even in modern accounts of the virgin narrative; a young man desires to sleep with young St. Maria Goretti, and he stabs her repeatedly and leaves her to crawl home alone and die. In these stories, female purity is juxtaposed with male sexuality, the former bringing forth eternal life and salvation, the latter bringing forth death and damnation.
(St. Agatha by Lorenzo Lippi. In this painting, she holds her severed breasts on a plate.)
3 The Religious Virgin suffers greatly.
As I alluded to above, the Religious Virgin suffers greatly, usually at the hands of a spurned suitor, but also from tragic circumstances. St. Lucy, St. Agnes, and St. Agatha suffer horrific mutilations, imprisonment, and execution. St. Therese of Liseux and St. Bernadette Soubirous die from tuberculosis. St. Kateri Tekakwitha is scarred by the smallpox that kills her family. The Religious Virgin will often embrace suffering as a sign of divine favor, and sometimes impose suffering through self-mortification (living in the desert, wearing hair shirts, whipping herself), fasting, or some combination of the two.
(St. Lucy of Syracuse by Domenico Beccafumi, holding her eyes on a plate.)
4 The Religious Virgin dies but her death is seen as a victory.
The story of the Religious Virgin always ends in death, but the death is seen as a victory. St. Ambrose refers to St. Agnes’ death as her “birthday.” St. Therese describes her impending death as an impending wedding, since it will bring about union with God. Virgins who died keeping their vows of virginity were guaranteed great rewards in heaven. These rewards would be greatly increased if they also died as martyrs.
In Eamon Duffy’s excellent Stripping of the Altars, he describes how the average man and woman in medieval England did not view saints as role models for their daily lives. Rather, they were viewed as channels of divine power on which they could draw for their needs. Thus, they were not alienated by saints doing increasingly bizarre or otherworldly actions that they could not hope to imitate. Quite the contrary; the more extravagant the life the saint, the greater the power of the saint’s intercessory prayers. Thus St. Agatha, whose breasts were torn off by pincers, becomes the patron saint of breast cancer patients. Saint Lucy’s eyes are gouged out; she becomes the patron saint of eye difficulties, etc.
(Thumb of St. Catherine of Sienna displayed in a reliquary.)
So, these are the basic themes of the Religious Virgin stories. If Disney applied these themes to Rey and saw her as the Religious Virgin, how would that impact her story (and Reylo?)?
1 Rey’s power to use the Force is tied to her virginity/unmarried status.
We have already seen Rey’s power with the force, easily using the Jedi mind trick, deflecting Kylo Ren’s mind reading and entering his mind instead, and then summoning the lightsaber and defeating him in a fight. These powers have been the subject of much speculation (is Rey Luke’s/Palpatine’s/Obi-Wan Kenobi’s daughter or the reincarnation of Anakin Skywalker?) and much criticism (Rey is a Mary Sue!).
However, if we apply the Religious Virgin tropes to Rey, then her powers make sense. Rey is single and a virgin, and this state gives her an increased sensitivity to the Force, and gives her the ability to draw on its power. This would also fit in well with Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side (Anakin marries Padme, and he easily succumbs to the Dark Side, whereas the Single/Virginal Obi-Wan Kenobi/Yoda/Luke are able to resist), and would even explain why Leia does not seem to be very powerful or skilled with the Force (Leia’s marriage to Han impedes her ability to draw on the Force.)
What does this mean for the future of Rey (and Reylo?)
First of all, it means that Rey must stay single/a virgin. Rey’s survival in the story is tied to her ability to use the Force, and if we apply the Religious Virgin narrative to Rey, then Rey’s ability to use the Force are tied to her remaining single and a virgin. Any romantic or sexual relationship would threaten to weaken her ability to use the Force, and by extension, threaten her life.
Second of all, it means that if Luke is to remain a powerful Light Jedi, Luke cannot be Rey’s father. Luke’s ability to draw on the Force, as well as to resist the temptation of the light side, would also be damaged by marriage and/or sexual activity. (Of course, if Luke has lost his Force abilities or has gone over to the Dark Side, all bets are off.)
2 Male sexuality will play a part in Rey’s story, and it will be an instrument of the Dark Side/Evil.
If Disney applies the Religious Virgin themes to Rey’s story, then male sexuality will feature prominently in the story as a demonic force. In Star Wars, this means that male sexuality, like anger, fear, agression, is a path of the Dark Side, and leads to suffering and destruction. (We see this clearly in the Prequel trilogy. Anakin does not deny his male sexuality, and everyone dies.)
What does this mean for Rey (and Reylo?)
It means that Rey will not desire anyone, since the Religious Virgin does not desire any human. However, Rey will be the object of that desire. Furthermore, that desire will be a frightening, violent, deadly force that works only for evil. This desire will bring great suffering to Rey and possibly death to her and to others. The implications for Reylo are obvious. In this scenario, Kylo Ren will show a sexual obsession with Rey. This sexual interest will not only be unrequited, but it will drive Kylo Ren to hurt and destroy others.
This would fit in very well with the films as portrayed in The Force Awakens. For example, many Reylo supporters feel that Kylo Ren feels jealous of Finn when he sees Finn run over to Rey. He then tortures and nearly kills Finn. That is a perfect example of male sexuality bringing forth pain and suffering.
3 Rey will suffer, but even if she dies, her death will be a victory.
It goes without saying that the Religious Virgin symbolism would mean that Rey will spend most of her time in the coming movies suffering. This suffering will especially be meted out by a man who sexually desires her, and his desire will cause him to torture her, and quite possibly kill her in the end.
What does this mean for Rey in the films, and potentially Reylo?
In the films, this could mean that just as Kylo Ren uses the pain from his wound to draw on the Dark Side of the Force in order to fight, Kylo Ren will use his sexual desire for Rey to draw on the Dark Side of the Force so that he can hurt and (most likely) kill her.
However, Rey’s death will ultimately be a victory for her, for exactly the same reasons that death is seen as victory for the Religious Virgin. When the Religious Virgin dies, she obtains union with the divine and becomes a powerful channel of divine power. Just before Obi-Wan dies in A New Hope, he tells Darth Vader, “You can’t win Darth. If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” When Darth Vader beheads Obi-Wan, his body disappears; becoming one with the Force. If Rey dies a virgin, and true to the light side of the Force, she will become one with the Force and thus infinitely more powerful than she could ever be in life.
(St. Agnes’ skull displayed in a reliquary)
So, if Disney chose to embrace the Religious Virgin symbolism of Rey’s character, that is how I would see it playing out in the remaining films. Should Disney do that? Probably not.
For one thing, the female virginity = good and male sexuality = bad narrative would be (rightly) criticized as being very negative about human sexuality. It is also noticeable what is absent in the Religious Virgin narrative; love between men and women. The Religious Virgin stories were primarily written during a time when the highest form of love was the love of friendship between two men. In the Religious Virgin narrative,two ideas emerge: Love only exists between a person and the divine, and love, almost by definition, cannot exist between men and women and men and women can have successful relationships only when male sexuality is absent. Both of these ideas would be a hard sell in the modern world, and would not mesh well with the romantic partnership between Leia and Han in Return of the Jedi.
Second of all, while Disney was brave enough to kill off the protagonist of Rogue One, I don’t know if they necessarily want to go down that road in the trilogy. Rey’s loss as a character would be a more difficult one for the audience to take.
Third, I don’t think that either Disney or the audience would necessarily understand this symbolism. Disney will likely not understand these themes at all, and most likely botch them. The average audience would not understand the themes and likely find them depressing and downright creepy. Which they are.
(Severed head of St. Catherine of Sienna. This is not a model, this is an actual severed human head. I believe it is still used in religious processions.)
In part, I hate saying this, because I want Disney to “take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.” But I also want the films to succeed as films in their own right.
Let me put it this way. I would rather the films pursue the Religious Virgin motif for Rey than to follow the “Rey is Luke’s Daughter “train of thought. That would be incredibly obvious, stupid, and boring. This would be less obvious and potentially moving, though they Disney will most likely butcher it and everyone will end up very confused and frustrated. I don’t think Disney should pursue either of these tracks, but if they have to pick one over the other, I’ll pick the “Religious Virgin” symbolism over “Rey is Luke’s Daughter.”