Muses: Tales of Hoffmann

 
     
Posted to Subscribers on 1 February 2015
 
 
 

 

Dear Subscribers,

For many, today is Super Bowl day. For me, it is the day after another marvelous Metropolitan Opera Live in HD production. As a Verdi lover, I expected to be a bit disappointed by Tales of Hoffmann, but I was actually thrilled, and story fit so closely with the themes I have been discussing recently that I almost thought it is trilogy time.

Audiences may not agree, but I thought Kate Lindsey stole the show. Her depiction of the Muse was brilliantly acted. Hoffmann is a poet, and poets, of course, have to connect to their muses, presumably Erato in the case of Hoffmann. There are various theories of muses, but C. G. Jung made a point of saying that the muse is an aspect of our contrasexual self, perceived by men as a feminine force inside the man (and by women as an external, downpouring source.) We can go all over the map, but typically, at least artistically, the source of creativity is the muse and, for men, this is one of nine archetypal female figures that — according to shamanic traditions — is fiercely jealous of flesh and blood women who compete for attention and ultimately for the souls of men.

I felt that mezzo soprano Kate Lindsey was phenomenal in her depiction of the psychoanalytic complexities of the relationship between the muse and the artist-writer-poet. Her body language, affection and bond as well as alienation were just amazing. What was even more clever is that she played two characters, a female muse and male friend, in the same opera. Offenbach is often underrated as a composer, many thinking only of his Can-Can from the also entertaining Orpheus in the Underworld, but when the love of my life died, I found myself listening often to Le Voyage dans la Lune, sung by Barbara Hendricks. For those who are curious, here it is, at least part of it, but not quite an audiophile recording.

http://www.amazon.com/Voyage-dans-lune-Mondecharmant/dp/B000ZFIKG6/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1422823788&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=barbara+hendricks+le+voyage+dans+la+lune

Lest the points get lost, Offenbach was out of the box so even if prone to make light of serious subjects, his command over his subject matter was heroic to the point that some referred to him as the Mozart of his times. Of course, others were not as flattering. Let's however get back on script. Hoffmann is a poet who is in love with the idea of being in love. He tells a story within a story. A scientist aka occultist Coppélius sells Hoffmann some rose colored glasses and introduces Hoffmann to his daughter. Here, one is tempted to steal some lines from Rigoletto, but Olympia is pure and innocent, a beautiful creature with a divine soul. The only problem is that when the glasses break, it is discovered that she is an animated doll with limbs that detach . . . oh, well, on to the next story.

His second love is a singer who is tempted by mortal love to forfeit the divine gift of her voice . . . and Nicklausse, Hoffmann's friend aka Kate Lindsey, reminds Hoffmann of his ill-fated adventures with love . . . Both Antonia and Hoffmann are struggling with their passion for each other versus their gifts. Antonia has a weak heart, and has been medically advised not to stress herself by singing. Her deceased mother pleads otherwise. Antonia sings and dies . . . leaving Hoffmann to conjure up a third story.

Having seen other productions of Tales of Hoffmann, I thought the Santa Fe Opera did a better job with the Antonia act because they played mirror games with the mother and daughter that were very theatrically effective. They gave a much more powerful impression of communication with souls beyond the veil, but onward.

Things are going from crazy to sad to reckless with the third rendezvous, a courtesan who is tempting Hoffmann to risk his soul, not for love but for passions of the flesh. So, now, we have a devil and the divine in serious competition and what is more clever in this production is that the mirror is now used to steal Hoffmann's reflection and hand it over to the devil. Okay, anyone who is interested can watch the opera on youtube, but the point is that the muse has conditions for allowing the poet-artist to express his gifts, and when the muse is triumphing, the relationship between the muse and her amanuensis is sound. I chose my words carefully because the poet is not a poet without the muse; with her, he is merely writing what she dictates. This is the secret of male creativity and why many men suffer as Hoffmann suffered by failing to find a way to have his cake and eat it too.

Native Americans have a similar view of the potential for conflict between the divine and the human parts of ourselves. They refer to those who have both proclivities, as Hoffmann, as two spirited. The gay community has, of course, taken up this idea with great fervor because, the fact of the matter is that relationships with people of the same biological polarity as oneself do not interfere with the relationship to the muse. They may still contain a lot of baggage that poses problems on a day-to-day basis, but the muse is not muted when the lover is the same gender as the creative individual.

Anticipating the deluge of e-mails that these controversial remarks may have, I would like to add a couple more comments, some first articulated to me by a fascinating spiritual brother who struggled with these issues for many years. He was intrigued by what causes someone to have a schizophrenic break and what follows after such a break occurs. He realized that when the normal separation of the two hemispheres of the brain is permanently destroyed, one cannot escape the wholeness of the view that comes when our brains no longer allow us to compartmentalize. Ultimately, he had a near death experience, was tagged in the mortuary as a John Doe, and then he had to reinvent himself. Well, I said he was fascinating, but the story is his to tell, not mine. He spent many years in the jungle and rebuilt himself with a new integrity but unbelievable fear of the jealousy of his muse. In a kind of a way, he suffered some of the same fates as the characters in Tales of Hoffmann, but his story has not been set to music though it would surely be worthy of a feature-length film.

Anyway, this dear friend and brother explained that the reason we often find males who prefer sports to art or music is that they are functioning in the biological mode. When they form a relationship with their muses, they become creative — more creative than women — in fields that are normally considered more attractive to women. Likewise, if a woman becomes creative because of her relationship to the downpouring energy, she excels in science, politics, and business, fields that are normally dominated by men, but she can often outperform when she is "creative" rather than working strictly from ego as most male competitors do. This is not a reason to vote for Sarah Palin or Hillary Clinton but rather to look for the source of the originality. If there is no connection to that source, women will not outperform men.

Clearly, these concepts have been understood in times past (and perhaps today as well) but each culture has handled the dilemmas differently. For example, celibacy may be imposed on some people as the only acceptable way to be inspired by our divine selves, but many cultures recognize the gifts without questioning the mechanisms that sustain the gifts. It is not only in modern times that the exceptional abilities of some people have been misunderstood by others — or that the eccentric life styles of some have baffled those of a more conventional disposition. What Offenbach did was to take very big subjects, such as the source of creativity or what happens when we die, and turn them into light-hearted show pieces that are memorable for their enchanting melodies and quick tempos.

Many blessings,

Ingrid

Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2015

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