There used to be an opera programmer on Coast Community Radio when we first moved to town in the mid 1990’s. The programmer, Ed David, was quite elderly at the time. Sometimes there were long pauses while he arranged a record on the turntable, or gathered his thoughts. His thoughts and descriptions were so good, that the pauses just built the suspense. He had been a lover of opera for decades, and had personally seen some of the greatest voices of the early 20th century perform. His telling of the story lines made the operas he played come alive.
I have enjoyed opera since high school, when I first recorded a broadcast off Central Michigan public radio -a live performance of Bizet’s Carmen at the Met. Five years later when I moved to Oregon those three cassette tapes traveled west with me. They served as the soundtrack of numerous papers written during college at UO. (Songs of the Humpback Whale was the recording of choice while studying chemistry or math.) Once I defected, from biology to the Art department, my list of enjoyable opera recordings expanded. The head of the Fiber Arts Department loved opera and played it while she wove before or after classes.
The Student Coop House I lived in for a time had a wonderful baby grand piano, the room had high ceilings and good acoustics. While I resided there it was used by several UO School of Music students to practice. My favorites were those playing Jazz, and an opera student who practiced with a friend. It was pretty great to have such highfalutin music wafting up the stairs on a regular basis played by those dedicating themselves to their craft.
Opera is the distillation of the human condition paradoxically combined with an exquisite exaggeration of emotion. I was once present at an exclusive fundraising event, in which opera performers were singing in an intimate space, again with excellent acoustics. I was leaned up against the back wall, working as a caterer at the time. The pure round tones of the artist’s voices filled not only the room, and also my entire body with their resonance. It was one of the most incredible moments of my life, and one of the few times I have spontaneously started to weep in public from a powerful beauty. It is the only formal live performance of opera I have ever attended.
Choosing to listen to opera, is pretty much to sign up to be emotionally manipulated. An experience cathartic, ennobling, uplifting or simply a wallow in pain. (I must admit that sometime the soprano voices are quite literally physically uncomfortable for me.) Joe recently remarked that the reporting on the current situation in our nation/world is a a bit like a grand Good-vs-Bad opera. It occurred to me that we are all unwitting players in the plots being played out. This “opera” is a continuation of our Vibe-O-Sphere.
I am realizing how important it is to be mindful of what media I embrace. This time the manipulation of our emotions may not be as consensual as a night at the Met. I just listened to an interview in which the person described life events, our schooling, and media information as grains of sand used to grind a lens through which we see the world. Right now as we continue to face a plethora of really disturbing events at every level of society, I am noticing that there is a delicate balance between awareness and ruminating. To give too much of my energy to learning about horrible things that I am not in a position to address, is to grind my lens towards focusing on hopelessness. It can be like putting on a tragic opera as my life soundtrack.
During the year of treatments for cancering I participated in a very deliberate moratorium on bad news. Those surrounding me protected me as best they could from world events. Now that I have returned to the bandwidth of the world news operas I am sensing that I need to use more discretion. If the first responsibility I have is to be mindful, than choosing which “operas” I tune into is very important. I want news that has an action plan beyond simply upsetting me in the name of awareness. I think this is one of the reasons the drama of the Worldwide Women’s March after inauguration was taken up by so many. It gave us a part in the chorus so to speak. We got to move – and action feels good. Inaction feels bad.
There are many mechanisms to influence the neurophysiology of another human. We convey meaning to each other with many subtle clues and signs. For instance the sounds we create with our voices have power irrespective of the meaning of the words we speak. The root of all of it is emotion – to evoke emotion is to draw forth the attention of another. In a way to evoke emotional attention of another person is to wield the power of that person. The power of emotion is great – and collectively it is even greater. The energy we produce with our hearts is measurable with the instruments of science. We do not need such instruments to feel the effects, which the expanded feeling in my chest during the fundraising opera performance attests to. If the idea that we create the world with our thoughts and intentions is true- wielding the power of the emotional attention of the masses may be creating the world that we find ourselves in. A world not so in alignment with our best interests. Fake news, real news, regardless it is the emotional response that counts.
This grand Good vs Bad Opera in which we are all cast is more improvisational than we might think. When wielded with the intention of love our power can move mountains. So people, Pay Attention to what you might choose to give your attention to. How do you feel when you are listening/reading/watching something? Empowered or disempowered? Do you feel empowered to work towards solutions or do you feel hopeless and helpless?
In the excellent book Switch by the Heath brothers they discuss how “Bright Spots” AKA what is working, can be leveraged to create significant change in even very complex problems. To be mindful of what you take in is not a mechanism to put your head in the sand, it is to focus within in order to dig deeper into the shared human condition. Ultimately it is a call to action.
It is possible to translate the stories around us to ones that are more empowering. Regardless of what you listen to, craft you own take away message whenever you can. To do so we can tune our lens towards what is possible and make our actions support a benevolent future. Conversely we can choose to turn our power to create over to those who benefit from our misery. We choose what we let in by where we place our attention. At the end of this grand good vs bad opera of the world, we decide if we want the happy ending or the tragedy.
Be mindful. Choose love. Use discretion.
Apply your power to good.
Most of the images are from the 1925 silent film version of the Phantom of the Opera, which is not actually an opera. But the costumes are, and it does take place in an opera house. Lamentably showcasing the stereotype of the damsel in distress where stalking pays off. Or conversely a horror tale saved by the power of empathy.