Friday, August 22, 2008

Falstaff and Shared Secrets

An insight came home to me with force the other night as I was watching Verdi's Falstaff at Santa Fe. Here I was in a crowd of hundreds--thousands?--of opera lovers, mostly solvent, some pig rich (with a few music lovers to season the mix). Anyway, these are people who know to handwrite their thank-you notes, and when to use the oyster fork.

So here we are all together on a balmy summer evening, watching the machinations of (as I said before) a "vain, greedy, lecherous, old fool." It was, as I wrote in an earlier post, something of a mixed bag, but the main line--Falstaff's character--is clear enough.

And the thing is: everybody got it. Whenever Falstaff did something particularly mean or lewd or otherwise egregious, everybody laughed, or at least "chuckled"--at any rate, everybody gave some hint of recognition.

And that's the point: these are not hicks or yokels or in any absolute sense; by any conventional standard, they are housebroken. Yet every one of them greeted Falstaff with a glow of recognition.

And that brings us to the insight. It's from Amos Oz, more specifically from his grandfather, his mother's mother, who must have been one of the kindest men ever. it was grandpa who said (but I quote from memory) that everybody has the same secrets. I think grandpa meant it as an act of compassion, or at least an identification--I think of Goethe saying he didn't know of any crime he couldn't imagine himself committing. Sure seemed like it in Santa Fe to me. Everybody has the same secrets, and they lay out big stacks of Andrew Jacksons to share the recognition.

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