Friday, December 28, 2012

Shakespeare, the Aenead, and Drop Dead Diva

you know how your mind jumps from irrelevant place to place sometimes, and how sometimes, rarely, you see the connections?  so here's one of those,  having to do with a few of my various worlds.

  on dec. 26 i saw the metropolitan opera production of 'les troyans.'  this is berlioz's take on the fall of troy, essentially 2 operas [nearly 6 hours altogether], and it's amazing on several levels. if you like opera at all and get a chance, see it; it will surely be in their filmed series, which makes it available far beyond new york.  the first opera is the fall of troy itself, seen through the story of the tragic prophet cassandra, who is doomed to see the future and never be believed.  deborah voigt is the cassandra, and is wonderful.

but it's the second that carries me away--the remaining trojans, led by the hero aeneas, land on carthage, which is ruled by one of mythology's grandest heroines, dido.  berlioz himself adored the aenead [or so the program notes tell me], and he follows the story essentially accurately, though with some changes.  susan graham is utterly amazing in what must be a draining role.

this led my mind logically enough to the aeneid itself, which i am lucky enough to be able to teach once a year.  on a purely emotional level, i like it far better than the odyssey and far-far better than the iliad. i like aeneus, and respect him; i dislike and enjoy odyesseus.  i always think odysseus would be fun to chat with at the local bar, over an apple-tini or two.  and then keep the hell out of his way. but aeneas, he's a good guy. and of course i adore dido.  dido, if you read the text closely, never veers totally away from her political life and convictions, and her suicide is so perfect a combination of both that part of her, and the raging, abandoned and passionate lover that she becomes once she meets aeneas.  it's extraordinary.  these 2 are to me the most interesting and moving of all the classic mythological lovers, because they are bound by more than the passion itself.  they share a similarity of experience which, even without interfering goddesses, would draw them to each other--each has fled with followers to create a new land. no one could understand either of them as they can each other. and those same similarities are what force aeneas to abandon her, and drive her to suicide cursing him.

and as i think about them, and how much fun it will be to teach them, and how they are my favorite of classical lovers, i think, well, yes--tragic lovers.  comedy lovers, however, have their own place in my heart, and that belongs utterly to beatrice and benedick in shakespeare's much ado about nothing. for different reasons, these two are also utterly matched, which rarely happens in shakespeare's comedies. beatrice and benedick are equally smart, witty, self-deceiving, blustering, and finally, gorgeously sincere.  benedick combines a rare combination of classic masculine traits with a simple willingness to accept beatrice's judgement about his friend claudio and, at her request, because she herself cannot challenge claudio to a dual ['if i were a man i would eat his heart in the marketplace,' she cries], challenges claudio on her behalf, fully aware that he will be killing his best friend.  beatrice, realizing her love for benedick, admits that love to him, but never loses  focus on the wrong done her cousin. these are characters that belong together, and, since it's a comedy, can end up happily together.

and so from the sublime to the ...certainly not ridiculous, but definitely less sublime... TV dramedy, drop dead diva.  It has run for four seasons, and for reasons unclear to fans, head writer, and actors, Lifetime network refuses to either renew or drop it, which has pissed me off endlessly.  There are many reasons i love this show, in spite of some of its failings, chief of which is its social importance. Its heroine is a shallow wannabe model who, at her death, finds herself replaced on earth in the fat body of a brilliant lawyer, retaining the purely brain aspects of the lawyer's body, though not her personal memory.  the heroine never forgets her glamorous background, and struts and flirts like the slim model she once was.  a fat and sexy heroine is wonderful.  they have taken on other issues.

 within the existing four seasons, jane has remained in love with the handsome, sweet boyfriend of her model life, and much of her angst has been that she can't tell him who she really is. though he is fond of her, he has no attraction to his fat colleague.  then she hooked up with an eccentric judge.  fans of the show are sharply divided over grayson [the old boyfriend, finally becoming interested in jane] and owen [the judge].  i have been interested in my own reaction; a fairly strong attachment to the jane/owen match.  i had thought that was mainly because of the superb actor who plays the judge, and who, though pleasant looking, isn't model-handsome. [note: i have no objection to handsome models; my father was one].  i am part of a fan-page group on facebook, and this past week in new york, on the same day i saw les troyens, i also met in person one of my pals from the group, and had a great time with her.  so both were close to my mind after the trip. and that's how i got to the string of thoughts that began with the opera.  owen and jane are  a lot like beatrice and benedick.  they are simply right together, with similiarities and interesting contrasts that have yet to be explored.  matching jane and grayson now would be like having beatrice fall in love with Claudio, or at least the nice duke.

somehow, this all seems logical to me.   the possibility that it may be simply loony to get from les troyans to drop dead diva via the aenead and much ado about nothing has occurred to me. but then, it's my blog and i can try if i want to...

and so, happy new year to one and all.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Friday, December 14, 2012

Mass Murder and the Mind

not surprisingly, facebook today is full of anguished observations about the elementary school murders in connecticut.  mostly i read people calling for gun control.  and i'm with them.  these kids were murdered with weapons nobody needs for hunting or self-defense.

but we all know, i think, that better gun  control laws won't stop these things from happening--witness the similar killings of schoolchildren in china with axes and other accessible items whose purposes aren't to kill, but which can certainly do so.

social change on a large scale might help. but what change, and how to effect it?

 one thing apart from the killings themselves, i find alarming: several posts referred to the problem of "mental illness," which causes people to become killers.  i would certainly admit that anyone who commits this sort of murder is crazy.  but the reverse isn't true: not everyone who is crazy commits murder.  yes, i know, 'crazy' is a bad word.  but it is large enough to encompass many different, severe forms of mental illness, and we know it's used routinely to describe mental illness.  and 'mental illness' is the expression being used.

what i fear is the prejudice against people with mental illness that has always been part of our culture and that often still rears its head when society becomes fearful in the wake of large crime.  i'm not afraid for myself--my own form of 'mental illness' is very mild, and often in the mental-health world not even described as illness.  I'm clinically depressed.  but the veiled attacks on mental illness do hit home.  

i don't have the beginnings of an answer besides gun control, and since many of these sorts of murder are committed by students in the school, some sort of process that would sort out the truly potentially dangerous kids early enough to get them help.

but my fear is that this is simply part of human nature, from the beginings of history on.  read the Iliad--  the great joy of killing in war, the very detailed, sensual descriptions of individual killings.  read about the inquisition.  read simply the stories of less dramatic but pretty awful murders in any culture and any era.  maybe if ours were not a violence-glorifying culture, both on a media level and on a political level, it would help.  maybe if it weren't essential for our culture to have class systems that require some people to feel hatred of themselves and others, we would lessen mass killings of every sort.  but please don't blame the mentally ill, who are more likely to be victims of violence than its perpetrators.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The FIrst of December

when it's an early snow, blanketing
branch tops, and a few
small clusters
of bright yellow leaves