Monday, November 9, 2009

My violent weekend...

The opera ain’t over till the advanced interrogation ends
By Jim Heffernan

I’ve had a violent couple of weeks, aside from the violence we’ve all experienced in the news.

Mine has come in a pair of Puccini operas presented live by the Metropolitan Opera in New York and beamed to theaters around the world, including Duluth 10, on the waterfront.

People who have never seen an opera and think they’re, well, kind of snobby and boring, might change their minds watching “Tosca” and “Turandot,” the Puccini pair showing here recently.

While they are love stories, they prove once again that the road to love can be very bumpy indeed. Never bumpier than in some operas – especially these two.

Poor Floria Tosca, the title character in that one, set in Italy a couple-hundred years ago. She must endure untold indignities just to rescue her lover from what the most recent Bush administration called “enhanced interrogation” but what is known in the world of opera as “torture.” Lots of torture in the world of opera.

Tosca’s boyfriend undergoes any number of enhanced interrogation procedures, including a head-binding gadget that draws as much blood as a crown of thorns. This is before he is brought before a firing squad and shot.

“Tosca” is not for the faint-hearted. Nor is “Turandot,” the other in this pair of Metropolitan Opera screened offerings. This one is set in ancient China where nasty Princess Turandot reigns and is known for rebuffing prospective lovers by beheading them.

One of her suitors, the Prince of Persia, is quickly dispatched after failing to live up to her standards, nameless here for brevity’s sake. Wasn’t Iraq’s Saddam Hussein a lowercase prince of Persia? I believe he was before his neck was stretched. His fortunes and ill-tempered practices while he ruled would fit right in in the opera world.

In “Turandot,” adding insult to injury, the victims’ heads are put on poles for all the world to see, the ill-fated Persian prince’s the only body-less head we have seen alive one minute and dead the next. There’s more torture and threatened torture too, inflicted upon the opera’s most sympathetic character, a woman who under the pressure of her circumstances decides it’s better to kill herself with a guard’s dagger than continue. Goodbye to her.

Of course these goings-on in both operas are accompanied by some of the most glorious music in all of opera. It’s Puccini after all. “Turandot” features Luciano Pavarotti’s famous theme song, “Nessun Dorma.”

Still, despite the redeeming quality of the music, all of this torture had a familiar cast to it. Some things never change.

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