Tonight is the opening of “I Capuleti e i Montecchi” here in Zurich. It is a role that I feel and love very deeply, and the opportunity to bring him to life, set to Bellini’s exquisitely well crafted vocal lines, fills me with tremendous gratitude. (I’ve written about my passion for him before.)
It tells the familiar story of Romeo and Juliet: the story we know well, masterfully told by Shakespeare, read aloud in countless sophomore literature classes, endlessly danced to (by yours truly, at least) in Bernstein’s version, retold and remade in numerous cultures and epochs – always breaking our hearts in the end.
Bellini’s version hails from later Italian sources, and as the title indicates, throws the emphasis squarely on the shoulders of these two warring families. This is undeniably an opera about war. Here there is no love duet between the two: they fight in every scene, even in death, never finding peace – even as harmonious thirds in the music ache for them to find each other. After the deaths, the warring families rush the stage and we see how the cycle will inevitably continue.
Why is this on my mind today?
This is our time. A time of war. (Although as I desperately “fight” to remind myself – it is also a time of immense beauty. Woe are we, if we forget that.)
I felt this way after having to sing “Così fan tutte” 2 days after 9/11 happened: “WHAT IS THE POINT????”, I screamed inside my head. How can an opera over 150 years old possibly matter today?
One point might be this: The Arts are here for us to look unflinchingly, directly, deeply and penetratingly at ourselves. They are here to show us who we really are. They are here, begging us to learn from our past mistakes and shortcomings. They Arts INVITE us to be better: “Choose LOVE this time, not WAR.” The Arts INVITE us to grow and evolve. It is up to us to accept the invitation to advance.
So I ask myself, when will “we” listen? When will we have the courage to look deeply within ourselves: at our own slips into lightly veiled racism? at our own greed for “rights” that come at the cost of HUMAN BEINGS’ LIVES? at our quick judgments of other people, dismissing their heritage, and THEIR rights?
I stare at Facebook and see my friends from many different walks of life, all confused with questions of “how could this happen?” and “when will it stop?” I think, as Americans, as long as we continue to allow the INSANE proliferation of guns through our laws and via the people we elect, we have categorically lost our right to be outraged. We have lost our right to be shocked. We actually need to look directly at ourselves and admit that we are allowing this – and by default, we are implicitly accepting it.
We are culpable in Charleston.
I am doing soul searching to find ways in which I might be complicit by my own actions or inaction. There are numerous articles around helping to compassionately point out how I – born into a white middle class world, with no understanding of what an African American growing up underneath a a waving Confederate Flag might be experiencing – might be able to help affect change.
Where I have been guilty of such things, I ask for forgiveness.
I have signed petitions and have written letters to the powers-that-be to be sure that my voice is being heard clearly.
I will no longer shy away from speaking the truth when I hear someone calling this latest attack an attack on faith, or the result of a mad man. Or someone waxing on about their unalienable right to open carry a weapon that they need no permit for. I can no longer be a party to insanity.
I will petition for radical gun law changes in The United States of America.
And, even if it is the most futile of things, I dedicate my run of performances as Romeo here in Zurich to my fellow human beings who have had to suffer the continued effects of rampant racism in my Country; to the mothers who have to explain to their beautiful young sons, that because their skin is dark, they must expect to be targeted and therefore must constantly be on the defense; to the utterly misguided, ill-educated, lost and fearful people who thing eradication is a solution; to the devastated, grieving families of the 9 human beings slaughtered in their place of worship, who, within HOURS of losing their loved ones, stood in front of the world and the person who murdered their family members and taught us what love is by simply saying “We forgive you”.
It is a mad, mad, mad world. Sometimes music seems to be the only thing that makes sense to me. Even if it may be futile, I choose to use that music for good, and hope that, miraculously, it may just shift the energy of the madness into more empathy, kindness, and dignified humanity.
As the turntable spins tonight, littered with corpses and enemies, my hope and intention will be one of peace.