Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Climbing Mt. Met (an Opera Challenge)

Believe it or not, challenges don't come much larger than this.
We're talking Richard Wagner and Brunnhilde the warrior daughter...
a potentially life threatening combination.
 Challenges. I like them...

That's one reason why I try to write novels. In one instance it took me seven years and 1100 sheets of paper to get to the point where I reached the last sentence of the last chapter and I finally typed "The End." Now that's a challenge.

Challenges are also why I'm attracted to running even when my feet and bones try to tell me they're feeling old and they don't want to slap pavement and or beat a path along the trail anymore.

The truth is that the prospect of a greater than average challenge is what drove me to undertake The Van Winkle Project. I wasn't seeking to become a better person. I wasn't expecting exquisite insights. I just wanted to make my life more difficult...

So far, ugh, I'm getting what I asked for. This is hard.

Since I still have to deny myself for another four months, I find myself wanting to go the other way--as a sort of compensation for being deprived of the news, entertainment, sports and weather that I crave.

I want a challenge that is the opposite of Van Winklian self-denial.

I want to over-indulge. I want to pig out . I want to scoop up every single morsel. Gorge myself until it hurts. I'm not talking about food, though. I'm looking for something of substance that will stuff my empty brain and overload my senses.

Fortunately an opportunity has presented itself.

Die Walkure is an opera by Richard Wagner.I've decided to make it my fresh challenge, a temporary mountain to climb. Here's what I want to find out.

Can I sit through five and half hours of big men and large ladies singing and running around with swords while wearing breast plates and helmets with horns sticking out of them? Can I endure all that and not die of boredom? Can I even extract something valuable from the experience? Or is this going to be worse than a root canal?

The Details
Our son just turned thirteen. One of the ideas he had to celebrate his birthday was that he wanted a gift or activity that reflected his love of classical music.

This was my idea of a Wagner opera growing up.
Bugs Bunny in "What's Opera Doc?" Classic!
A few months ago he noticed at the local cinemaplex a poster for live broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera.

Yes, whenever the Met is performing an opera a person living out here in mesquite country can buy a $22 ticket and slip into an air conditioned theater and watch the same show as the tuxedoed and gowned ladies and gentlemen are seeing in New York City. Our version comes to us on the big screen in High Definition.

This sounded as if it had to be quite an improvement over the Sunday Texaco Opera my father used to tune into on our home radio/intercom system back in the days when we lived in Alaska. I suppose Dad felt a need to import some culture to the remote 49th state. All I knew was that the tinny intercom speakers in every room were blasting this exotic stuff. Opera!? I couldn't escape that awful singing in foreign languages!

Our son thinks he'll like the show, although he's not sure about the length. He's mainly excited by tales of the more than million dollar "morphing" stage the Met installed just for this production. "This could be cool, Dad!"

Yeah, son, but it's an opera...

My personal jury is still out on whether I like opera or not. This is why Die Walkure presents such an interesting challenge.

Wagner wrote the ideal music for fiery death descending
from the skies in Vietnam...
Rather than dipping my toe into the operatic waters, I'm going to dive in. We'll arrive at the movie theater at 11 a.m. and walk out at last at 4:30 p.m. Five and a half hours of Rick-hard Wagner! Total bombast! All of it courtesy of the artist who most inspired Adolph Hitler (ick). The man who gave us the perfect soundtrack song for the genocidal attack on the village in Apocalypse Now, "The Ride of the Valkyries."

This may sound unappealing to some readers, but you should realize. I'll try most anything once. What's the downside for a writer? None. As I tell my creative writing students, 'If something you do turns out badly it's ultimately to your advantage. Now you have something really interesting to write about."

I know this opera will be an interesting experience. What I don't know is whether I can make it to the end without drowning in the sheer excess. Come back for the next post to find out how we fared. - V.W.


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