Saturday, April 14, 2012

Perfection...almost!

I just returned from seeing Natalie Dessay in “La Traviata” where several times I caught myself  marveling that this is live...as in happening right now at Lincoln Center!  Live From the Met HD in local theaters is perhaps the smartest move any arts company ever made. It was, as it always is, a stunning experience, from the moment the lights go down to the last ovation. And it has broadened the audience for opera many times beyond the number who will ever be able to see one at the Metropolitan Opera, venerable though it be.

This was not the first time I have heard Natalie Dessay. Her voice is luminous and agile, with the ability to deliver coloratura virtuosity without breaking a sweat, sometimes, as in today’s performance, while lying on her back or curled in a fetal position. She is simply one of the finest sopranos around, perhaps the  best singer/actor. But here’s the interesting part: she has been sick for over a week, missed the opening night of “La Traviata” and, though she sang with believability and pathos, one might not have known she was ill except that her voice cracked slightly 2-3 times and her high C at the end of “Sempre Libera” was not her usual shimmering incandescence. As I sat there watching, I was imagining how she felt.

As a singer, I think I know. Please understand that I am in no way comparing myself to Natalie Dessay. But the voice is such a delicate instrument that it is appallingly easy to have a bad day. Not that she gave a bad performance. Indeed, it was achingly beautiful. (I was seated between two men who were wiping their eyes at the end!) But at the Act I intermission, she was interviewed backstage and walked up with a slight grimace on her face. She clearly was not happy with her performance and laughingly said “OK, so I missed a high note!” She was charming and self-effacing but I hoped she was not being too hard on herself.
 
My point is this (I’ll bet you were wondering): whatever our chosen passion is, be it our profession, a hobby, or nurturing a relationship, we are quick to berate ourselves for a single mistake, lapse in judgment or bad decision – all the while in the midst of doing everything else exceptionally well.  Natalie sang three hours of the most demanding music, and led the audience through an emotional wringer that provided a divine opera experience. While sick! I hope that, at home tonight, she doesn’t dwell on the few less-than-perfect seconds! And I hope no sanctimonious music critic takes a pot shot at her.

I know I am prone to forget this lesson, despite having had ample opportunities to learn. I made a vow to treat myself more generously, to not obsess over occasional descents into thoughtless behavior, and to give myself credit for just doing the best I can. I can’t sing a high C anymore anyway, and none of my mistakes are going to be broadcast to the entire world in HD.
 
Put your feet up, Natalie, have a glass of wine and get well soon. Thanks for an extraordinary afternoon.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

For the Beauty of the Earth

It was one of the first hymns I remember learning as a child. It would often come back to me when in a spectacular venue such as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park. How could one not be awash in gratitude in places such as those...they simply overwhelm us with beauty. Later I learned to feel nearly the same appreciation for the more quietly beautiful places, such as the rolling golden grasslands where we now live, surrounded by mountains. Now it is a daily occurence to be overcome with joy over the small lilac bush I planted last year, now about to bloom, the quail who live on our land and delight us with their familial behaviors, the longhorn cattle, and the horses...oh, the horses I would never wish to own, but whose presence always bring a smile to my lips and a song in my heart.

The poem "Fences" was written a few years ago and included in "Sip Wine, Drink Stars", my first book of poetry. It captures a bit of the elegant way in which they enrich our lives here in southeast Arizona, just by being a part of the landscape. "Fences" is a poem which really should be read aloud. It is like a party in your mouth...feel it, listen to your voice as you taste the words.

Then go on to read the little poem about Daffodils. Just breathing in and out the wonders of earth's renewal, yet again this year.

Fences

down near the end of the road
three mares graze

and gaze across the grass
where all is bound by fence

flanks twitch, tails switch
a quiet flutter of soft lips

iridescent flies around their eyes
where memories of races and riders reside

they stand in serene silence,
their silhouettes still, stark,

the declining sun setting
their silken backs aglow.

Daffodils

Just a handful of stems, tightly closed until
I placed them in water, and, as if drawing
sweet moisture through a straw
they burst their tissue bounds and exploded
into bliss, filling the corners with bright shine,
too lush, there in that worn turquoise jug,
to have come from the ground. Surely they were born
in the sky, near to the sun and loaned to me
for a few days of perfect spring,
which I fear will end when the daffodils
are gone.