Any subject is good for opera if the composer feels it so intently he must sing it out. -Gian Carlo Menotti
Last weekend we went to see a new opera at the English National Opera. By new, I mean two things; a modern opera and also new to me. We saw Dr Dee: An English Opera created by theatre director Rufus Norris and musician and composer Damon Albarn in 2011. Definitely not classical opera, supposedly it was inspired by comic book author Alan Moore and based on the life of John Dee, medical and scientific advisor to Queen Elizabeth I in the mid-1500s. Actually, he was described as a “consultant” to the Queen, which explains a lot, to me at least.
I must say the staging was impressive and a visual treat, especially the giant accordion-page books (you needed to be there to understand). They even had live crows, and some pretty scary ones in the cast on stage as well. It was such a cacophony of visual images and emotional portrayals of strange characters that I didn’t find myself being nudged by my daughter for napping half way through.
But the reason I have titled this posting, Dr. Dee was a Dummkopf (roughly translated as “stupid person”) concerns the main message of the story. Dr. John Dee was so enamoured with learning, his scientific theories, and his role as a consultant to Queen Elizabeth (he even taught navigation to those making the historic sea explorations for England at the time), that he totally ignored his wife and daughter, spending all of his time “at his work”. In the end he lost his family and wound up leading a miserable life in disgrace by those who once revered him.
Opera does take its roots from real life, and in this case, we find a workaholic, enthralled with learning, but even more so, seduced by the praise and accolades heaped upon him. Not unlike today’s modern workaholic who gets praise and accolades from his colleagues at the law firm for putting in the most billable hours, or the consultant who is the envy of the office for her massive frequent flier miles. Or the senior executive who spends so much time at the office he knows the names of the night janitor’s children, but forgets his own anniversary.
Go to the opera sometime, you can learn a lot about life, assuming you don’t sleep through the whole thing because you’ve been working late all week!
Tight Lines . . .
John R Childress