Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Day the Circus Leaves Town

The Metropolitan Opera certainly picked an interesting way to end their 125th Anniversary Season. Only three performances of Gioachino Rossini's La Cenerentola were scheduled for this Season. They all took place this month, and the last one was offered as today's matinee with an early curtain (12:30 PM local time) and HD transmission. Approximately three hours after the conclusion of Cenerentola an early curtain rose again for the evening performance of Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung, thus concluding the third Ring Cycle production, whose preceding three operas were presented on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. By my clock this performance is taking place as I write this, scheduled to end at 12:25 AM. One might invoke the Cinderella reference to remaining at the ball after midnight. This would be deceptive, however, since the "midnight rule" does not figure in the libretto for Rossini's opera, although Cesare Lievi's staging for the Met seems to have crammed quite a few clocks (all showing midnight, unless I am mistaken) into Don Ramiro's closets.

Could any two operas be more different? I suppose there are any number of rabid Wagnerians who might think it sacrilege to perform Götterdämmerung in a space where some of Rossini's music might still be reverberating, however slightly. Nevertheless, I can think of at least one connection that might register with any soul hardy enough to take on nine hours of opera in a single day; and, as the authors of the Upanishads tried to teach us, knowledge does reside in the connections that bind together elements from seemingly unrelated realms. That connection is the sense of a new beginning. As Cindy Warner pointed out in her SF Opera Examiner reflection on today's HD transmission, Cenerentola concludes on a note of a new social order in which older values of kindness prevail over the base machinations driven by greed that have displaced them. In a similar way the gold that was debased from the moment of its first theft by Alberich in Das Rheingold is finally restored to the Rhine Maidens at the end of Götterdämmerung, where it reassumes its role of beautiful plaything, uncontaminated by thoughts of wealth and power. Both Cenerentola and Götterdämmerung begin in a world grown sick and disabled by mankind's baser natures; and both operas end with a healing process, not so much for the protagonists, but for a broader sense of humanity itself.

Am I being serious? There is no reason to doubt that Wagner conceived the end of his entire Cycle in terms of one grand (not to mention devastating) purification ritual. Did Rossini have such lofty thoughts? I would be surprised if he did; but, from another point of view, it is interesting to consult the Wikipedia entry for "Cinderella" and review all the geographically diverse variants on this tale that had been kicking around long before Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm included it in their respective collections. What such a review reveals is that all of those variants deal, in some way or another, with becoming a better person in a world in which the merits of a better person have been devalued. In other words, in this particular case, the priorities of Rossini and Wagner are less important than those of the tales they decided to adopt; and, where our own knowledge is concerned, the connection that matters is in those tales. Rossini and Wagner were only the conduits through which we could venture to discover that connection.

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