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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Junkie

I think it's long past time I admitted it: I am addicted to opera. And I don't think there's a clinic for it.

It is the world's least aggressive, slowest moving addiction. Its pushers are surpassingly patient: The first 7, 8, 9 are free. My very first opera was Tosca, back in about 1993 or so. I believe I paid the handsome sum of $5 for my dorm-subsidized ticket.


Next, I was the lucky recipient of a Don Carlo ticket that had been intended for my friend J's boyfriend. She'd thought better of buying Magic Flute tickets, because she wasn't sure the relationship would last that long. They didn't even make it to DC, but I'm sure her cynicism had nothing to do with it.

Then a different friend J set to tempting me, first with Salome, then with Faust. If there is a woman out there who has the willpower to resist a double dose of Bryn Terfel, she is no sister of mine.

A third friend J (hmm . . . I feel like I'm devolving into a Jim Carrey movie. Please shoot me.) repaid my stage managing efforts with tickets to a special performance of Turandot for alums of her college. That was v1.0 of the Hockney-designed production that kicked off this season.

Yeah, I played hard to get for a while there.

It wasn't until 2001 that I felt like I could scrape together enough cash that it looked discretionary if I squinted at it and J (the second), L, and I got our first season's worth of tickets. Even then, I feigned a somewhat noncommittal attitude. I even skipped Hansel and Gretel because we were traveling around Christmas and I told myself I wouldn't really miss that one. But even in that season, there was the Billy Budd incident, which revealed that I could not only enjoy 20th-century opera, I could enjoy something based on fucking Melville. Yeah, that right there would probably be the first warning sign.

The next season, J dropped by the wayside (something silly about an austerity program). L and I soldiered on through a pretty lackluster production of Susannah, Ramey notwithstanding. And I told myself that opera was clearly not the boss of me.

But that was also the season that brought Thäis and the era of tedious opera blogging. I'm resisting equating this with shooting directly into my eyeball. After all, I didn't always blog my opera going. There's nothing, for example, on the next season's Samson et Dalila (ok so for that there's a private entry that I never finished) or Lucia di Lammermoor or Madama Butterfly. I will pass over the fact that I experience pangs—actual, literal, somatic pangs—when I think about how those experiences are lost to me.

And, let's face it, that was the very same year that I ate up Cunning Little Vixen and then A Wedding with a spoon. The writing was on the wall. I was doomed to find myself at least as delighted with The Midsummer Marriage as I was unsure whether I'd ever want to actually listen to it again. The cash to buy Nixon in China (which got not one, but two entries and a follow-up movie ) from pal M was, even then, burning a hole in my pocket.

And while the Old Guard and the Young Turks of opera were giving each other the old hairy eyeball, there were infractions in the neutral zone. Gluck made me explore my feelings about countertenors (and I still have a glut of recordings of Orfeo ed Euridice on my wish list, none of which I've bought); a murder of Strausses strutted their straight opera stuff, experimented with the recipe for the ideal cherry-popping opera, and crossed the theater/opera line to make me a coloratura's bitch; and, of course, Puccini made multiple bids to be the most derivative and derived from composer in my experience while still having a gooey, enjoyable center.

I've actually been thinking about this long, strange trip for some time. Definitely back as far as Midsummer Marriage, but probably even earlier. Right now it's on my mind because I'm doing a happy dance over the discovery that Chicago Opera Theater has student tickets for every performance. I need to see Bluebeard's Castle (Ramey!), and Erwartung goes along with it (oddest Cav/Pag I ever did see). And then there's Béatrice et Bénédict: One of my favorite Shakespeares viewed through the eyes of the man who brought you Symphonie fantastique. And, well, if I'm gonna buy two tickets, I might as well take in Il Ritorno D'Ulisse In Patria, right? For half price? Ya sure you betcha!

Also on the horizon is renewal for Lyric's next season. I wasn't expecting it to be a crossroads, but it's shaping up to be. Of course L is no longer my built-in opera-going buddy, so I have to decide whether to keep the second subscription and set up a series of opera play dates, drop my subscription to one seat, and if I choose curtain number 2, whether I want to upgrade my seat slightly or stay where I am on cash-flow grounds. In having a peek at the season, there is the aforementioned Country and Western La traviata/La Bohème cross-over event, Julius Caesar (a text I've been looking to reclaim ever since college, when I was scarred by the dreadful Oliver Stone Presents: JFK Julius Caesar for which my boyfriend was the TD), Die Frau ohne Schatten, Falstaff, The Barber of Seville, Eugene Onegin, and . . . a drum roll please . . . Doctor Atomic. Further investigation reveals that the bitches at Lyric have further complicated this by not putting Doctor Atomic in my fucking series. Why do they want to mess with The Junkie?

So anyway, just an old (or new, or temporally middling) sweet (or dissonant) song keeps opera on my mind. All the time. I think about who I know and how strategically they might be located. I casually browse the websites of operas in other cities, piecing together a strategic spatio-temporal opera map in my mind. Who can I visit and what can I see? Is there a summer fix to be had? Is it tacky to stalk Massimo Giordano or Bryn Terfel or both?

If anyone wants to examine the etiology of my addiction, s/he will have to toss both genes and environment right out the window. My dad loves classical (in the Western Art sense) music, but cannot abide opera. Despite his genuine enjoyment of this music, he hardly ever got to listen to it. My mother not only will not tolerate it in her presence, she's prone to mocking him for putting on airs or something. As with a lot of my tastes, I have to invoke the Rush Basket Principle.

But however I've come by the addiction, I regret nothing. Opera has been the most delightful, painful, challenging, sublime, mock-worthy interest I've developed in my adult life. It has assumed an actorly position, legs set wide, and thrust its fists against the posts of my notions of a good time. It has pried open doors I didn't know existed, revealing music, literature, schools of design, performers, and phenomena that would have remained completely unknown to me otherwise. It has sparked and fueled my Chicago renaissance, however desultory a renaissance that may be (the fault, dear Brutus, etc.).

I almost didn't go to see Tosca, way back when. I had a pretty serious chest cold that was probably pneumonia, I was overworked and stressed out and tired. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to like it anyway. Yeah, even if I'd missed it, I'd probably have gone to something or other with a friend later, but it makes me twitch, thinking that something that's taken such root in my mind and heart might never have been. But that may just be the junkie talking.

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