Monday, February 19, 2007

 
The trip down to New York was smooth and free of either traffic or problems, in brilliant winter weather. Whenever possible, I enter the city through the Riverdale section of the Bronx and drive down the Henry Hudson Parkway and West Side Highway along the river which sparkled Saturday in the low-angled sunlight. I was born in Manhattan and there's always a thrill going back.

The matinee was Janacek's "Jenufa," which some people refer to as a Czech opera although its composer and the play that inspired it were deeply Moravian culturally. I mentioned a bit about the plot last time. Janacek took many of his story lines from newspaper items about crime, or in one case from a comic strip about a group of barnyard and woodland animals.

Gabriela Preissova, the writer on whose play the opera is based, did very much the same thing, combining two unrelated police reports into a seamless plot: one about a young man who slashed a woman's cheek with a knife because she loved his brother instead of him; the other about a mother and daughter who disposed of the daughter's illegitimate baby in a sewer. But Preissova and Janacek were part of a pan-Slavic culture that virtually always looks for forgiveness and redemption to grow out of depravity or criminality. Jenufa ends in a blaze of major key reconciliation and hope for the future, specifically a short but emotionally powerful duet in which Jenufa, and the young man who had slashed her cheek out of frustrated love, join hands and vow to remain with each other to the end.

The duet destroys me every time. And from the sounds of sobbing around me, I'm not the only one. People think that "Madama Butterfly" packs an emotional punch, but the tragic geisha has nothing on Jenufa. There was pandemonium in the opera house at the final curtain, not least when the charismatic soprano Karita Mattila threw her arms around the other two leads--all three of them Finnish in this performance--as the applause built into an ovation.

The evening's opera "Yevgeni Onegin" is based on a novel by Alexander Pushkin, the bedrock writer of Russian literature. Tchaikovsky turned a satire on over-romantic affectation into a super-romantic opera about mis-timed love and loss. Tchaikovsky was gay in a society that did not tolerate homosexual behavior. The idea of marrying to provide some cover began to seem appealing. What followed next was either a massive coincidence, or the working of fate.

A young woman pursuing music studies sent the composer a letter innocently but highly emotionally declaring her love. At this very moment in time, Tchaikovsky was considering Pushkin's "Onegin" in which a young, romantic girl on a country estate sends a sophisticated and bored man exactly such a letter. For some while, the development of the opera and the composer's life seemed to parallel and even intertwine.
While the hero and heroine of the opera never marry and even reject each other at various times in the plot, Tchaikovsky went ahead with the marriage, fully believing that young Antonina understood his offer of a marriage in which there would be only "brotherly love."

The result was a personal disaster for Tchaikovsky. The marriage collapsed within weeks and he fled the country for a while. The opera ends with the desolate hero crying out in anguish and fleeing the home of the once-naïve young woman who had written him the letter offering him her love. Life imitating art, imitating life, imitating art, etc., etc.

Dimitri Hvorostovsky grows handsomer and hotter as the years go by and was mesmerizing as the alienated Onegin. Renee Fleming demonstrated just exactly why she's a huge star. The evening was alive with erotic tension.

Sunday was given over to Fritz and our friends. We lumberjacked in the afternoon, clearing the way to the site where the well will be drilled, and hosted a Sweat and dinner in the evening. I got quite a workout, carrying four and five foot long sections of hardwood tree trunk and heaving them onto a growing pile of logs to be seasoned for firewood. The Sweat was very quiet, almost silent this month, low on distraction and focused primarily on the joy of being with each other.

During the dinner that followed, I mentioned something that has occurred to me for a while, but I'd not really put into words before. What we do: a ritual of men gathering in an intimate, hidden space to explore their spirituality, followed by a communal meal, very closely resembles what we know of the spirit of the earliest Christian gatherings before dogma, guilt, "infallible" decrees, and an entrenched priesthood hijacked the movement into something obsessed with self-aggrandizement and self-preservation. They got it wrong, but I think we've gotten it back to rights again in the woods of southern New Hampshire.

Comments:
What a wonderful day it sounds like on Saturday! Such fabulous operas back to back! I listened to the JENUFA and was crying and applauding in my little study...my neighbors scream at their tvs for sports teams, i cry and scream for opera.

Love those photos of DH! sigh! The two Sirius broadcasts I have heard have been SO hot! Can only imagine how glorious in the house!
 
Here's to comraderie and spirituality! Cheers!
 
Mr. Hvorovstovsky is hot.

Your sweats sound wonderful. Wish that I could take part. I think you have gotten it right in the woods of southern New Hampshire.
 
Thanks for posting pics of Dimitri Hvorostovsky. He has that silver grey hair on a youthful face that reminds me of one of my posts back in december. You commented at the time, Will, that the combination can be "devastatingly beautiful". Hvorostovsky is a bit older than the guy I saw but he still looks hot.

Now, as for "forgiveness and redemption" growing out of "depravity or criminality" in Janacek operas, I have to ask about Katya Kabanova. That's the only Janacek I have seen - Lyric Opera, mid 80s - a great production. I don't recall the details but I don't remember feeling any sense of redemption at the end. Quite the opposite in fact. It was so unlike other operas that the memory has stuck.
 
Songster--Katya Kabanova is a marvelous work--the Metropolitan has a very good, austere but atmospheric production of it. I'm hopeful that someday they'll revive it with Mattila and Silja who would be perfect for it.

In the post-feminist movement age, I have read any number of analyses of it that look at Katya's leap into the Volga as ultimately a liberation, an escape into nature (always a strong idea in Slavic art) from the oppressive world of the conventional town and her monstrous mother-in-law. And there'as a lovely, almost serene orchestral postlude to the suicide that is Janacek's comment on the moment.

It's perhaps like the moment in "From the House of the Dead" when the eagle the prisoners have kept is allowed to fly free. They're still in chains but the symbol of human endurance briefly soars above the gulag and then returns to the wild and freedom.
 
i have only heard Jenufa once, but I found marvelous and want to hear it again!
 
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