A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

That Vast Louisiana Desert

Last year was the year of jazz for me. This year is the year of opera. I've been listening to recordings, watching televised productions, reading librettos. Tonight I went to New York City to see Manon Lescaut at the Met.

Puccini's opera is taken from a novel by l'Abbé Prévost, volume seven of Mémoires et aventures d’un homme de qualité. It's a popular story which, before Puccini, had been made into an opera by Jules Massenet, and which, after Puccini, had several more incarnations. What's basic to all the versions is the flighty Manon herself, an innocent young girl on her way to a convent when she meets and falls in love with the chevalier des Grieux. The whole story, in its various permutations, results from the tension between her love for the chevalier and her love for all the things money can buy.

In the Puccini libretto, as in the original novel, Manon ends up in New Orleans with her lover, and is eventually banished from the city. This is a French story, remember, originally published in 1731, so New Orleans is where people ended up when they fled or were exiled. The librettist apparently didn't know much about the brave new world and, after all, it's a great love story, so who cares about the geographical details? All the same, it's hard not to laugh when Manon, thrown out of the settlement at New Orleans for reasons unclear, ends up in the "desert" of Louisiana. She sings the magnificent Sola, perduta, abbandonata while her lover throws handfuls of sand around and curses the lack of water for his thirsting, dying love. In this post-Katrina world, a little ironic!

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