This is a little respite in the otherwise relentless pressure of change.
As a child, I felt that the fact that my mother was such a gifted pianist meant that there was a place of refuge in a world that was otherwise inhospitable. There are many tales, too long to tell, but my mother played me to sleep, often Chopin, but sometimes some music from an operetta, which she would sing along in Swedish. Because I only heard the lyrics in Swedish, it was many years before I realized that the operettas were not Swedish. Aside from music, there was little else of interest about my childhood.
My first theatre experience of light opera was however not very promising. When returning home, my father asked how I liked the music; and I said, "It sounded like cats being swung by their tails." The performance must have been excruciatingly painful on my delicate ears. However, something happened a bit later. I remember finding an old case of records, the big 12 inch 78s and playing them one by one, very systematically. I fell in love with Fritz Kreisler — whom I came to learn was someone my mother had known and with whom she had played when he was a bit up in years and she was still rather young and precocious.
Fast forward . . . in late 1979, I was introduced to the Well Springs Technique, a method for releasing traumas involving massage to classical music. There is a story here, but the method was accidentally discovered by Kay Ortmans and gradually developed into a "technique" about which I wrote a book, still unpublished after more than 30 years. As part of the background research for the book, I studied memory and music. I did not address the role of massage because others were writing about that aspect of the work at the same time that I was looking at the psychological patterns and their relationship to music.
There was material on music going back to early Greek times, but I now realize that we can go back much further and find more depth of understanding. The most accepted thesis that was continually promoted was that music can ennoble a civilization or bring it to doom, and some of the authors I was reading at the time suggested that certain forms of modern music were a sure sign that our civilization is in crisis. Of course, we did not need to turn on the radio to realize this, but I suspect that music that has long-term value goes through a cycle of rejection before there is acceptance. Our ears and vibrations are used to certain sounds and probably resistant to what is unfamiliar.
In those circles in which it is believed that humans are evolving, it was generally argued that there have been landmarks in musical history in which we were preparing for quantum leaps in consciousness. These would be inaugurated by new forms of music that would pave the way for new understanding, reference often being made to Beethoven and Verdi for triggering psychological awareness and laying the vibrational foundation for the work of famous psychoanalysts such as Freud, Adler, and Jung . . . and, of course, their successors.
This subject is so enormous that I am going to focus only on Verdi, my favorite composer. Obviously, we cannot isolate anyone from the cultures into which they were born, but Verdi was young when Italian opera was dominated by bel canto.
Frankly, I love bel canto, but no matter the beauty of the music, it more or less has to be accepted that if one were simply listening to the music and not the lyrics, it would be impossible to determine whether someone was going to war or falling in love or dying.
Personally, I do not think there is a right or wrong or better or worse. I can listen to bel canto for hours, well for more than half a century, but the music is "different" from Verdi's music, and, of course, this can be said about anything: art, language, cuisine, even views on Nature or medicine. So, we simply have preferences or passions that incline us one direction or another. We can also try to see the whole and how the pieces fit together.
Verdi was a Libran with Aries Moon and we can see and hear the social proclivities of Libra as well as the passion of Aries in his music. Arguably, early Verdi was much more blatantly martial whereas later Verdi focused the fire in ways that proved to be even more transformative and ennobling. There are probably many subscribers who are more musically erudite than I, but anyone who listens to Giovanna d'Arco (Joan of Arc) and then Don Carlo would probably agree with my rather simplistic statement.
Verdi was fascinated by Shakespeare and wrote several operas that were based on Shakespeare, Macbeth being the earliest of these and probably most macabre of all his operas. Though not by any means Verdi's greatest opera, it is nevertheless a fabulous opera. Moreover, it challenges us much more than most operas to look not merely at the darkness of human nature, but also the supernatural and the power of fate. There are witches and a ghost, ambition and criminal deeds. There is also blindness to the risks and ramifications of wicked deeds; and the impact of all these psychological factors plays out in an unforgettable sleepwalking scene that clearly suggests that guilt can drive us mad.
Lady Macbeth is not supposed to be likeable; she is the archetype of what we believe we loathe. How Anna Netrebko will combine stridency and darkness has opera buffs sitting on the edges of their chairs. We usually think of her dashing off high notes and behaving frivolously so why on earth was she cast for a role that fits neither her voice nor whatever stereotypes we might have about her. The trailers show her cleavage and the critics, who evidently saw the dress rehearsal, have described this Lady Macbeth as a trophy wife, blonde to boot. If we read between the lines, we are to assume that Lady Macbeth will be depicted as more sexually manipulative than we are used to seeing her on stage.
The irony, of course, is that evil must have a seductive component in order to prevail. One can use beauty and charm to manipulate or play to the inner drives and ambitions, suggesting that telling people what they want to hear is a way to make oneself popular, but the hand inside the glove is what is important. Shakespeare handled the "interpretations" with comic scenes, like grave diggers in Lear, which, alas, Verdi never set to music. However, Verdi used similar theatric devices, like the jester, Rigoletto, or the unspoken words after a prophecy has been made. You find these in many operas . . . just look for them!
But be careful! One of the superstitions of theatre is that just the word "Macbeth" can jinx a theatre so one of my friends who knows his way around Hollywood very well reminded me not to say "the word" once inside the theatre.
Caution to the winds, the preperformance publicity is preparing us not simply for a new production but a new interpretation of the role.
I believe it is always important to see timing. Perhaps the most obvious synchronous factor is the fact that Scotland, or at least some forces in Scotland, are seeking to become independent. The referendum vote was on September 18th and the dress rehearsal at the Met was on the 20th. More importantly, the issues of power and abuse of power are very much synchronous. It might be time for a slight rewind. Jung, in the early part of his career, believed in what is termed acausal synchronicity, but he reversed his position on this later in life. The way I interpret and teach this concept is that Time is itself an event, if only we understood the meaning of both the time and the events. It is very hard to convince people who are used to believing in free will, choice, and personal freedom that we are blown in the winds of Time and seldom create a trajectory that is not driven by these winds.
Perhaps more important than any of these issues of power and freedom is the issue of the supernatural. I can hardly wait until Saturday to see how this is portrayed in this production. I believe that Verdi took the Shakespearean witches and elevated them to a central role. Instead of three hags, we have an enormous chorus of witches who foretell the future, but not the psychological toll of the deeds that make the prophecies come true. The modern mind is loathe to accept the ability to see the future and may regard those who listen to predictions in the same manner that they see alcoholics or perhaps even mental patients suffering from sense disperception or hallucinations.
A battle worn warrior hears voices from this or another dimension? Are they real or inside his head? Does our mental stability depend on how we act on impulse? Are we responsible for actions that are based purely on ambition? Will we suffer for what we do when the deeds are wicked? The reason we are still watching this drama and casting it in countless new ways is that the psychodynamics are powerful and depict a range of forbidden emotions.
Depending on the maturity and sincerity of the producer, parts of the drama may be understated or overstated. I believe the story is about ambition and tyranny, not sexual manipulation. The idea that either "she" or the devil made anyone do anything seems like a feeble interpretation, but, strange as it may seem, I have had two clients in the past who were members of the Royal Shakespearean Company. Their horoscopes were not remotely similar. One believed that Lady Macbeth did what she did because she loved Macbeth and understood his ambition. The other believed, as most do, that Lady Macbeth was more determined than her much less complex husband.
The play is so powerful that even Kurosawa made a Japanese version of it, Throne of Blood. It is eerie, but most agree that the drama centers more on Lady Macbeth than her husband, and as such we are exposed to the helplessness men can have when they are completely blindsided by dominant women. Truth be told, this only works when the man is unaware of his own shadow so the woman triggers the shadow, leaving men bewildered and reluctant to accept accountability. This, I believe is as integral a part of the story as whether or not the supernatural exists as a reality or part of our imagination.
Verdi lost his wife and two daughters in an epidemic. He must have gone through a long period of wanting to pierce the veils. Just listen to the music and make up your own mind.
I am posting this now, realizing that by going on record before seeing the actual performance that I may regret some of what I have scribed, but I hope that many who might otherwise skip the performance will get tickets and see the live performance in their local theatres as the Met production is going live around the world on Saturday, October 11th. For those who cannot go, here is the whole soundtrack: