Monday, March 20, 2006

Death, talk and basketball

This past busy weekend left lots of material in the inbox of my brain. A gorgeous grey-and-black production of Gluck's Orfeo and Eurydice at Chicago's Lyric Opera. Much conversation with friends and family. A warm and funny end-of-season celebration for a junior high basketball team. Bright sunshine suggesting that spring may indeed come again this year.

Orfeo--grief in C major. Orfeo is offered the chance to bring his beloved wife back from death, with the warning that she will die again if he looks at her face along the way. The Lyric production offered simple but stunning visual images of a funeral procession, of shrouded souls in Hades, of love and music reaching beyond death. But as Orfeo avoided looking at Eurydice, with sharp, hurtful movements, it became more painful for her to be with him than to be separated. Distance that grows between lovers's minds and hearts is more painful than physical separation. Eurydice died again, Orfeo mourned her ("Che faro senza Eurydice"--I sang this in college--"How shall I live without her?") Then the goddess of love reappears, brings Eurydice back to life as the lights change, and you get a domestically reassuring, though false, 18th century happy ending. Eighteenth century Reason will not tolerate the premature death of a beloved spouse.

The stark grey set, the naked emotion in the opera leaves room for feeling one's own way into the myth. Each of us will experience the death of loved ones in our lives. Yet somehow it comes as a shock, something we don't want to believe. Something we try to deny. Or, we journey with our loved one to the door of death, almost losing ourselves in the process, yet we, the living, must return to the reality of the everyday world leaving the beloved behind.

Unless the goddess intervenes.

The problem is, the happy ending on this opera, at least in this production, feels so wrong, so fake, so contrived.

And another problem: my Lutheran upbringing--or is it my reserved, polite stoical German upbringing--taught me to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of death. Because the one who has died has gone to a better place where there is no more sorrow. So why should we mourn? The sorrow is ours here on earth, and it's not productive to feel sorry for ourselves, is it?

Darn it all, I keep meaning to write something light and funny for this blog. And it all comes out so serious. Blame it on Lent.

Here's something funny related to the opera. Afterwards, as we waited for the elevator, person after person discovered that the call button would not light. People in the back of the crowd would remind people in front to push the call button again each time an elevator loaded up and left. The people in front would say, "But it doesn't light." And everyone could see this. But person after person (myself included) would get near that button and have to try it for themselves. LIke it was going to do something different this time. Like we could bring it back to life.

Conversation brought me to life this weekend: a talk-fest with friends over dinner, speechifying at the basketball party, where words in praise of players and coaches brought the fun and hard work of the season back to life. Arias and choruses, domestic drama, comedy, tragic doings that we don't understand but need to remember.

No comments: