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Archive for July, 2009

I have seen the opera Salome once and never quite understood the back story. I’ve been told that Maria Ewing’s infamous portrayal of Salome was the performance that I needed to see. And Of course, most of the reviews of her performance focus on her willingness to take the “Dance of the Seven Veils” to its logical extreme without even a flesh colored body stocking to make it more “acceptable” to staid opera fans. And one day Voila! there she was on my TV an important interpolated activity of an otherwise dull Saturday afternoon. She is lovely and I’m still trying to figure out if she is perhaps a person of color. Anyway here’s what I still don’t understand about this story. John The Baptist has been out in the wilderness eating locusts and wearing camel’s hair. I mean real camel’s hair not processed like a Brook’s Brothers coat. This was funky stuff right off the camel. Anyway he ends up in the court of Herod the Tetrarch and immediately begins to heckle Herod for marrying his own brother Phillip’s wife Herodias. John keeps telling Herod “It’s not right for you to have her.” As if that were not enough Herod is lusting after Herodias’ chaste daughter Salome. After a while Herod gets tired of John interfering in his life and imprisons him in a dry cistern. Salome begs one of the guards who has a thing for her to let her see John The Baptist who she immediately falls in love with believing him to be chaste as well. Now Salome is a young fox, Herod wants her, the handsome young soldier guarding John wants her, John The Baptist is pretty nearly a homeless man at the time, but he doesn’t want anything to do with her. still Salome pleads with him for just one kiss. When John refuses her telling her to go look for the Messiah she gets mad, but sees an opportunity in yielding to a much desired wish of Herod’s and does the Dance of the Seven Veils for his birthday and pleases Herod so much that he promises her anything she wishes. Prompted by her mother Herodias who is being made to feel guilty by John, she asks for John’s head on a platter. At first Herod refuses not wanting the blood of a holy man on his hands. But Salome is adamant. Herod offers her all kinds of treasures, but she refuses. Eventually Herod has to give in and Salome gets the head of John on a silver shield. Now this is where Salome lost me – she grabbed the head and starts kissing the cold dead lips with insane ardor. Herod revolted by the sight has her killed on the spot! Now, I know that in an opera everything and anything is likely to happen on the stage and the joy of it is that at the end you go Phew! and feel enormously glad that it was just a performance. But here’s this ingenue, being chased by the man who is married to her mother having stolen her mother from his brother, who has a handsome young soldier so crazy for her that he commits suicide when he finds out that she prefers John The Baptist; and she dances so fiery that when she gets the seventh veil off and reveals her naked body her stepfather who is also her uncle agrees to cut off the head of a holy man and then eventually kills her! Good grief that’s a complicated story! Hard to believe it all takes place in one Act! I mean darn, why didn’t John just kiss her?

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You are never too old to set another goal,
Or to dream a new dream.
C. S. Lewis

I happened to read a column by Lewis H. Lapham the other day in which he was telling of his long ago in the 1950’s having nurtured the thought of one day becoming a writer, and on the advice of an instructor in English Lit., he attempted to form the habit of keeping a journal. He didn’t know what it was that he hoped to write and so he was glad to be told that it didn’t matter what went down on the page. Anything at all, the man said. “Describe something you saw yesterday in the street, copy out five paragraphs by Jane Austen, reconstruct a conversation overheard in a men’s room or on a train, make a list of exotic birds …;learn to put one word after another, like your feet in your shoes and maybe you’ll find out that you have something to say.”

I seized on these words avidly as I had been spending entirely too much time trying to find my Muse and offering the excuses, all the while, of being too old, too uninteresting and entirely without anything to say. To give you an idea of how extreme my procrastination was, I bought my last journal, a rather elegant leather bound easy to hold and carry, small notebook. I purchased it in the gift shop at the Museum of Modern Art here in New York, thirteen years ago! Made exactly two entries, thirteen years apart having discovered it again amidst this incredible melange of books, magazines and bibles that seem to want to take over my apartment.

Add to this discovery the fact that several of my friends upon hearing one or more of my life’s anecdotes have taken to suggesting that I write a book. An idea that I always reject vigorously offering the observation that no one would ever want to read about my life’s excursions which is code for my believing that no one could ever edit my excesses so that I don’t appear to be some wild, hedonistic fool rather than the mild mannered, reticent cleric that I think I am. Notice I said, “think.”

My barber, Eli is one of those pushing for a book every time I get in his chair. Actually, I believe Eli should write the book. He is the ever curious, non-stop questioner that loves to cut hair and is using his barber’s chair as a laboratory of experiences for the PhD in Psychology that he is currently working on. Eli also does a lot of work with young people and he is always insisting that my life stories could be inspirational to some of our younger brothers and sisters. I’m not sure I agree, but his approach is typical of that of many of my friends who I am convinced are just taken by the drama I manage to dredge up while telling my life’s anecdotes.

At any rate, what I’m really looking for with this blog, among other things, is a repeat of a rather enjoyable experience I used to have as a magazine publisher. The magazine I published,Stereo Review, marketed itself with the slogan “The World’s Most Widely Read Music Magazine.” My editors were some of the best music writers in the business and they all had the habit of writing short memos for circulation amongst staff about their reactions to the various music events we all attended nearly every night. When they learned I was an Opera buff they immediately suggested that I become a Patron of the Metropolitan Opera and they managed to secure, for me, two Grand Tier, aisle seats in the center of the Opera House, which I held for nearly 15 years. The catch. of course, was that I had to agree to write the short staff memo every time I made a performance. They had never been able to get a marketing oriented publisher to agree to this before. I jumped to it excited by the prospect of writing with such august colleagues. I also viewed writing about the performances of great singers such as Pavrotti, Callas, Domingo, Moffo, et al. as an opportunity to absorb some instant culture to add to my love for the music of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. I was fascinated by the prospect of hearing the voice used as an instrument by some of the best ever. Actually the experience really helped me to enjoy and understand, better some of my favorite operas. To be continued…

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