I've been meaning to follow up on The Curious Incident at the HD Opera the other day--specifically, Renée Fleming as intermission hostess, insisting that the libretto of Così somehow required an apology, as you might apologize if, for example, your football team bore a name that is an ethnic slur. Of course we wouldn't say that sort of thing today, we nice people, but those were olden times and the music is beautiful so let's forgive ourselves a bit of impropriety.
Say what? Impropriety? How odd.
The plot is easily told, almost fairy-tale in its simplicity: in the first act, the ladies promise undying love; their lovers depart. In the second a act--uh oh. At the end, a kind-of-a sort of-a-resolution, except maybe not.
Now, I suppose you might find this simply funny (cue: "You find that funny?") Perhaps more likely, you read it (as I suspect Mozart intended it to be read) as a kind of bleak, autumnal wisdom. It's mutable, this humanity. What you thing will last forever--it doesn't last forever, and the chances are you don't even want it to last forever (are you really looking forward to meeting Granny in heaven? Tell the truth, now. Really?). It's the paradox of existence: enjoy yourself, but don't kid yourself. Stuff happens.
With Renée, my first thought was--who wrote her script? Does she have a banker problem? A political commissar? But no--on second thought, my guess is that this was her doing, and that the sentiment is deeply felt. I mentioned before that I read her memoir, which I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend. I thought it a superb account of how to live in the arts, how to build a career. But it struck me also as tinged with an odd note of pathos, in the sense of: if I am so successful and famous, why am I not having more fun?
To which, were I her friend, I would say: Renée, love, welcome to hard times. You are one of fortune's favored, a gift to all humanity and I delight in your success. But Renée, love, stuff happens. Even to the likes of you, love, even to the likes of you.
In her perplexity last Saturday, Fleming seemed to try to spin it into a kind of feminist message, as if to say not that "people don't act that way;" rather more on the lines of "women don't act that way, and it is piggy of us to suggest that they do." Sugar and spice and everything nice (she seems not to have noticed that the men in Così are set forth as bearing an equal (perhaps greater) burden of comic humanity--but maybe for the men, it is no more than justice?). But I don't think she had her heart in the larger political agenda. It was these women she was thinking about, or this woman, Fiordeligi, whose transition is so central the theme. Or more precisely, this woman, Renée, who has sung the part often enough. Personal note, it was my great good fortune to see her sing it there back in '96, and I count it as one of the defining opera occasions of my life.
So, dear friend, go with the autumnal-wisdom flow. Don't feel any need to try to explain it away and don't ever, ever, try to apologize. If you haven't got the message yet, you might look back to an earlier New York arts-darlng:
- Shivering and sighing,
- Infinite, undying,
- One of you is lying.
Being, of course, Dorothy Parker. Me, I think I'll revel in Fiordeligi's great (albeit ironic) anthem of faith: