Opera, cocaine, yoga, fighting the power, and soccer

by Rob Tiller

I seriously considered driving down to South Carolina this weekend to drive Clara on the Carolina Motorsports track, but decided the trip would probably create more stress than it would relieve. I needed to get some work done this weekend, and wanted to do some other fun things and take a few deep breaths.

On Friday evening Sally and I had dinner downtown at Buku, which had added some tasty and interesting vegetarian options, and went to the NC Opera’s production of Carmen. Carmen was first performed in 1875 shortly before Bizet died at age 36, and its first performance was a failure. Although it is full of wonderful melodies, it isn’t too hard to imagine why audiences initially had trouble with it. It celebrates freedom over responsibility, and its uninhibited sensuality is even today a little shocking.

When I saw the Metropolitan Opera’s production in New York last Thanksgiving, I was intoxicated. Elina Garanca as Carmen was sensational: beautiful in every way, and very sexy. The production was edgy, beginning with an initial scene that did more than casually suggest a gang rape by soldiers of Micaela. The acting was as good as the singing, and the settings were spectacular. My brain’s pleasure centers went into overdrive — dopamine city. Great opera is unquestionably better than cocaine. A possible solution to the drug/drug war problem: provide music and opera education (it is an acquired taste, and education is necessary), and great opera for everyone.

I gave some money recently to the NC Opera, because I really do want the art to survive and thrive, and I’m happy we have at least some live opera here in Raleigh. And I enjoyed Carmen on Friday night. As Carmen, Leann Sandel-Pantaleo sang beautifully, as did the other principals. The orchestra under the baton of Timothy Myers sounded good. But Carmen is more than just music. As drama, the production was flaccid. Instead of threats of violence and passion, we had too much sweetness. There’s not much to say about the sets; there wasn’t much to them. But it was still better than cocaine.

I got some deep breathing in at a Vinyasa yoga class with Yvonne at Blue Lotus on Saturday morning. Her 1.5 hour classes are always different, with a varying playlist of eastern plus western pop music and variations on classical poses. But they are always intense. I’ve learned that I need to take along some water and a towel, because I will be sweating. At times I’ve felt something close to desperation as to whether something uncomfortable is beyond endurance. But there are moments of sweet transcendence. And I always feel great afterwards. It isn’t just a physical thing. My mind feels more peaceful.

In the afternoon I took Diane (Sally’s mom) to North Hills to see the Metropolitan Opera’s simulcast of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena. It occurred to me that this might be too much cocaine for one weekend, but I wanted to see the new Met production. Seeing the HD simulcast isn’t the same as being at the Met in person, but seeing the live production has more electricity than seeing the same thing when rebroadcast. We learned at the beginning that people were watching in theatres all over the world, including, for the first time, Russia. It was good to share the experience with people in the theatre and around the globe.

In the production, there are 70 are so performers on stage, probably an equivalent number in the orchestra, and dozens behind the scenes. All performing difficult feats — walking a highwire without a net. It seems impossible that mere mortals could pull this off. But they did. It was stupendous. Anna Netrebko as the doomed bride of Henry VIII is compelling and heartbreaking. A great musician and a great actor. Yes, she needs to drop some weight. But I forgot that during the performance. It was truly intoxicating. Some of us in the theatre had to clap, even though she couldn’t hear us.

After I dropped Diane off, I drove by the old state capitol building and saw a couple of hundred people doing the Raleigh version of the Occupy Wall Street protest. I learned from the newspaper that 19 of them later got arrested for staying past their permitted time. Public protesting has always been problematic for me, because I can’t completely endorse any bumper-sticker-size slogan, and although I realize simplification can be politically useful and even necessary, it still bothers me.

But I’m glad that there are people who like demonstrations, and are prepared to make some public statements. The greed, ignorance, and indifference of the economic and political elites in the face of the long and continuing crisis in the economy should not be accepted calmly. Instead of going to jail, the worst malefactors of the economic meltdown are still earning multi-million dollar bonuses. Instead of instituting dramatic new regulatory structures, our politicians are doing nothing, or worse, promoting more deregulation. We’re on the edge of an economic cliff, and our leaders aren’t leading. We should be mad about these things, and gravely concerned about other existential threats (global warming, overpopulation, and nuclear weapons among them). And after we blow off some steam, we should get organized and work for change. Perhaps the Occupy Wall Street movement will spark something new.

Saturday night we went out to Cary for some minor league soccer. Our team, the Carolina Railhawks, had to beat the Minnesota Stars by 2 goals to advance in the playoffs. It was a beautiful, mild evening, and there was a large crowd out for the game. The Railhawks came from behind to win the initial game 4-3 — not enough to close out the series. They then played two 15 minute periods, which ended without further scoring. So the series was decided by a shootout. We lost 6-4. It was sort of a painful ending to a good season.