L’Estate (summer) August 12, 2009


August 12, 2009 It is August in Italy once again and those Italians who can are heading for the beach or the mountains. Since Sarnano is reasonably close to the mountains and is about 3ºC cooler than Rome, we get a modest influx of Romans coming here for a bit of peace and quiet along with some cooler temps. The bumper car franchise has made its annual return to entertain the kids, but mercifully has moved to a schoolyard across town. I can still hear the over-amped music at night since “across town” in Sarnano doesn’t cover much territory. But the thumping is not nearly as invasive.

Most of the nearby hamlets are offering various summer entertainments–Festa da this, Sagra della that–usually in honor of something edible. Sometimes it is a particular pasta, other times it is for truffles or mushrooms. For instance, a village just up the road is hosting Sagra della Pancetta–a bacon festival! Another community just cuts to the chase and is offering Una Festa della Pizza e Birra. I might have checked that one out except that I’m leaving town on Friday to head for Seattle.

The Seattle Opera is again producing Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen and since I had convinced Sara and Charlie to go this time, I felt obligated to share their pain. The Ring is not easy–four operas in six nights with the shortest clocking in at well over two hours. I saw The Ring in Seattle with a group from San Antonio in 1995, and the first two nights were much like a lengthy visit to the dentist. My then 20-year old son David asked me before the third night if he could sell his ticket and go check out the Seattle grunge band scene. I gave him the go ahead, on the condition that he got a decent price. He came back 15 minutes later saying that he could only get $10.00 for the $100.00 ticket, so he would stick it out. After the fourth and final opera, David and I were part of the 20 minute standing ovation, beating our hands raw. I yelled out to him over the din, “if I could get tickets for next week, would you want to stick around?” He yelled back, “in a heartbeat!”

It took the first two operas for Wagner and the nineteenth century concept of time to get into our heads. Then all of the leitmotifs, music phrases that stand in for an action, object, or character, started to make sense and we settled in.

When I was teaching Masterpieces of Music at UTSA, I routinely did a send-up of Wagner. After all, he was an easy target. Among other things, Wagner
–thanked his principal financial backer by having an affair with his wife;
–quite possibly had a sexual relationship with King Ludwig II of Bavaria who all but bankrupted the state supporting Wagner and his operas (before moving on to building fairy tale castles);
–lived with and fathered two children with his best friend’s daughter who was married at the time to his most supportive conductor;
–was a raging anti-Semite since he borrowed heavily from Jewish bankers who, surprise surprise, expected to get their money back.

I started presenting a more balanced view after playing a CD of the scene at the close of the second opera where Wotan says goodbye to his favorite daughter, Brünnhilde, When the music stopped, I looked up and there in the front row was one of my students in tears. “It was so sad, so beautiful,” she cried. I decided then and there that if his music alone (no video) could be that moving in a sterile, windowless UTSA classroom, then maybe I should take a closer look.

Besides doing The Ring, I will also have some dental work done. On Monday I get a twofer: I get the dentist’s chair during the day and Wagner at night. Now if I get an unruly kid sitting behind me kicking the back of my chair on the transatlantic flight, I will have a trifecta! Wish me luck!