Enjoying opera, and meditating
by Rob Tiller
Some of my musical friends have a phobia about opera, which I can understand, but it’s really a shame. Some of the greatest music ever conceived is found there, and some of the greatest living musicians express themselves in the form. At its best, it is visual, kinetic, psychological — and fun. A case in point: Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, which we saw on Saturday.
This was a new production from the Metropolitan Opera, performed live and simulcast in HD video to movie theatres around the world, including our own North Hills cinema in Raleigh. The main story concerns a servant, Figaro, about to marry another servant, Susanna, who is being pursued by their master, the Count. It’s a comedy about love and jealousy, but it also has a tragic side, with elements of deception, abuse of power, and corruption. It gets complicated, with various hard-to-follow schemes, impersonations, betrayals, and stolen letters – enough to make you wonder whether eighteenth-century audiences were smarter than we are. But with subtitles, we get the gist.
The new production, set in the 1930s, had interesting sets, gorgeous costumes, excellent singer-actors, and the great James Levine conducting. The music is perhaps Mozart’s finest — transcendently beautiful. The production took the story seriously, and not just as a sequence of wonderful songs. Along with belly laughs, there was surprising depth in the leads, who were all new to me. I was particularly charmed by Isabel Leonard as Cherubino, Marlis Peterson as Susanna, and Ying Fang as Barbarina. Peter Mattei as the Count sang wonderfully. Ildar Abdrazakov as Figaro was very human, funny, and musical.
The schedule for the remainder of the Met’s season of Live in HD productions includes a couple of other favorites of mine (Carmen and the Barber of Seville) and others that look interesting.
I’ve been reading a new book by Sam Harris titled Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. Harris is scientist and outspoken atheist, and, it turns out, a serious and experienced practitioner of meditation. He proposes a middle way of approaching what he calls spiritual life that steers between religious mythology and strict scientific rationality. The book is a combination of meditation guide, neuroscience, neo-Buddhist thought, and memoir. It inspired me to find 20 minutes in the schedule for my own meditation practice. If I experience a major illumination, I’ll let you know.