Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Special Place in Heaven

God must give a lot of leeway to writers, poets, actors, singers, musicians, painters, and sculptors (apologies to any of you I missed). Those of us who live the artist's life--at all points along the scale of talent, proficiency, maturity, sobriety, and even sanity--push creativity as far as our gifts and desire will take us. In the process, we risk crossing the boundaries of traditional social and religious standards, in our work and in our lives.

In recent blogs I have attempted to describe the indescribable "divine" in the artist's vocation and his or her surrender to the missionary challenge: "The great gift of artists is that they do not hoard their transcendent experience." 

The mission statement of my home parish, Christ the King, in Pleasant Hill, CA, is "To Hear the Gospel and Make a Difference." Applying this challenge to artists, I need only flip the understanding of "gospel" to include the inner movement of the Divine Spirit within artistically gifted ones to combine inspiration and desire with physical and mental capacity. When that synergy occurs, great works spring forth and meld with equally inspired performance--and we make a positive difference in the world.

Adolfo Hohenstein: poster for Madama Butterfly...Image via Wikipedia
What got me thinking along these lines, again? Esther and I recently attended a Festival Opera performance of Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Inspired by David Bellasco's late-19th c. play, the composer gifted the world with some of the most lush and soul-stirring music ever written. 

Oddly, the tragic story line seems to have taken on greater moral significance in modern times. A dashing American naval officer . . . a lovestruck 15-year-old geisha. In 1900, when Puccini attended the play, who in the audience would have fully appreciated the nature of Pinkerton's abuse of a fragile young Japanese woman. How many would have expected a white man far from home to do anything other than opt for a convenient  hit-and-run marriage contract (999 years . . . with a monthly renewal option!)? I suppose it's to our credit that in 2010 we sit in darkness, awash in heart-ripping sound, and feel for  the plight of Cio-Cio San and harbor no sympathy for Pinkerton's too-late and insincere repentance.

In grand opera, music and message require skilled performance. When delivery breaks down both suffer. At the performance we attended, soprano Teresa Eickel (Cio Cio San) and tenor Christopher Bengochea (Pinkerton) were up to Puccini's challenge. Supported by an excellent cast, orchestra, and production design, they affirmed my conviction that a special place awaits artists in the afterlife, no matter how far they may stray from what most of us call the "straight and narrow" in their personal lives.
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