Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A (Cathartic) Night at the Opera

Just got back from an experience at City Opera's NY premiere of Leonard Bernstein's A Quiet Place that's left me wrecked, spent, decimated, yet thrilled and unable to sleep. Never in my life have I responded to a piece of musical theatre the way I did tonight.

Whether the opera is a masterpiece is for others more knowledgable to decide - like Anthony Tomasini of the NY Times, who was two seats away, sitting directly in front of Stephen Wadsworth, the librettist. (Awkward much?)

I was the grateful Plus One for Michael Portantiere, who did this fascinating interview with City Opera's artistic director, George Steel.

The opera opens with an awkward funeral which I seemed to find funnier than anyone else in the theater. The deceased is the mother of the family, inspired in part by the death of LB's own wife Felicia. Having lost my mother this time last year, when one of the characters sang a testimonial paraphrasing Proverbs about "a virtuous woman," I began to sob. I mean sob. For the remaining 45 minutes of the act, I sat there shaking in my seat, inconsolable, weeping. It wasn't just my connection to the material, it was the searing honesty of the material itself. The humanity of it. Jamie described the work best as "flayed," as if her father had performed open heart surgery on himself. All of the basest emotions around death were on display - grief, pain, regret, resentment, denial - like a gaping wound. The opera reached into my own chest and pulled out my throbbing heart with its power.

It was the kind of night that makes me ache to be a better artist. And to redouble my efforts to get my work out in the world. A week doesn't go by when some well-meaning fan tells me to hurry up and get another book out and I want to scream, "It's fucking done and sitting in a drawer because the publishing industry can't seem to get its shit together." But experiencing LB's genius makes me more determined than ever to find a way to get my work out - whether it's book three in the series, or my memoir-in-progress, or the movie version of How I Paid for College, or the musicals I'm writing.

Never mind my frustration with not making money--a galling prospect for anyone--but not making art cuts even closer to the bone. I am in a race against time. Every day I am keenly aware I am one step closer to death and that I don't want to leave this life with my work unfinished. At 44, I know it's not too late, but there's no time to waste.

Every day I tell myself, "If not now, when?"

The experience tonight was all the more poignant knowing that LB didn't live to see the NY premiere of his work, dying with the memory of it being misunderstood by a Houston, Texas audience in the mid 1980s. All the more devastating to me tonight was seeing empty seats in the stunningly renovated theater. Here was a major cultural event in a first-class production--why wasn't it sold out?

If you're in NY, you must experience this landmark production for yourself. If not now, when?

1 comment:

Rick said...

It's wonderful when a piece hits you like that. Thanks for the recommendation.