I know that to most people, the terms "arts" and "north Texas" seem like contradictory statements, and yet I have long held that it is precisely BECAUSE we live in the middle of God-forsaken nowhere that the arts are more important than ever to denizens of these little towns on the prarie. We need to drag ourselves, kicking and screaming some days, to a higher plane of existence, the one where the ancient Greeks suggested catharsis would occur if one was properly stimulated and inspired by art. I am happy to say this year I got to truly experience just such a thrill - several times over. Most major metropolitan areas celebrate the start of each new season of artistic performances in the fall....here ( perhaps due to the fact that autumn exists on the calendar in name only) we tend to experience our cultural season in the spring, and the offerings come fast and furious, often creating a devil's dilemma : which event shall I attend?
It is with a renewed sense of joy each year that I get to spend a few pleasant hours at the Ft Worth Opera Festival. I have been going to operas of various sorts since a young teen (read "My Knight at the Opera" in this blog, May 2008) .The experience of attending the opera is made more fun for me by the frequent arrival of an out of town friend whom I refer to as "the Johnny Appleseed of Opera", for he spreads his enthusasm, knowledge and love of this genre wherever he goes. It is infectuous. He manages to bring together a vibrant salon of family, friends old and new, music professionals and artists into a Moveable Feast of shared artistic joie de vivre, so one doesn't merely attend a performance with him, one participates in an event peopled by others who share their ideas and enthusiasms over food and drink in a day long celebration of friendship, music, and frivolity.
In previous years, I have cautiously avoided anything new or advant guarde and have stuck to the traditional classic style operas made famous in days of yore. The costumes, composers, story lines and melodies were all safely familiar and enjoyable, much as one watches a classic movie repeatedly, precisely because one knows that Rick will let Ilsa leave with Viktor Laslo on that last plane out of Casablanca, and will walk off into the mist with Inspector Renault. What is plesantly safe is enjoyable but rarely expands one's horizons. This year, however, at my friend Johnny Appleseed's urging, I ventured out of my comfy zone and into unchartered water. "Here be Monsters", the edge of the map reads, and thus begins one's journey into unknown lands.
It was an excting trip, as I attended Ft Worth Opera Festival's production of "Dead Man Walking", an opera in the modern style. (Modern characters, music, topics.) I cried through several purse-size packets of tissues and enjoyed myself thoroughly - catharsis was acheived. I must confess that I was a bit leary, at first, not being too excited about the movie by the same name. Sure, it's an important topic; Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn did respectable jobs in their roles. The movie chose to emphasize the issue of the death penalty itself, and its relative ethical or legal merits. Ok, important stuff, needs to be discussed, but .......snoozer. So off I went to see the opera built on the same story-line, fully expecting to get in a really good 2 hour nap. Wrong ! The opera version of "Dead Man Walking", written by Jake Heggie , takes the same basic story premise but shifts the emphasis. Instead of focusing on the issue of the death penalty, the opera storyline delves more into the characters of Sister Helen Prejean and the convicted murderer, Joe. Perhaps because operas tend to have long ( singing) passages of characters exploring their thoughts and feelings, this version of the story explores more deeply the relationship between the two main characters. It skips right over the whole "is the death penalty warranted " political issue and goes right to the heart of the story, which is : Can a human being who has committed an evil act be forgiven? What does it mean to seek redemption? Is it possible for humans to forgive another for atrocities ? Without being saccharine or tritely religious, this was a deeply spiritual work of art, as it explored the topics of sin vs redemption, trying to find the worth of all humans, even the most despised, how does one help someone who is flawed or evil, what is one's role in humanity ? Other reviews will comment on the singers' execution of their operatic skills.....as a neophyte music critic, I leave that to the professionals. What I would like to share with the world is the idea that this version of the story "Dead Man Walking" was a truly moving, profound, arts experience, brought to life via the creative vision that Ft Worth Opera director Darren Woods shows in everything he does. I am lucky to have been dragged, kicking and screaming, and to have experienced it.
Along with the many fine opera, theater, symphony and other artistic performances available for the sampling this spring in north Texas, we have many "arts and craft" festivals where various folk trot out their wares for show and for sale. 75% of the stuff that one sees at these venues is wretched, miserably hideous (entire poster sized pictures made of thread, glued down into pseudo "native " designs; whirly doodads and gimcracks that get your attention as colorful wheels spin on the breeze, but serve no real purpose; t-shirts with various ugly sayings on them; odd clothing, tankards, figurines and weapons left over from the Renaissance Festival; kitschy gadgets, bought today in the heat of passion, forgotten tomorrow to lie unwanted in some body's garage sale). The remaining few booths have some odds and ends of worthwhile stuff - I tend to favor jewelry-makers, potters, and caramel corn poppers. It is with much anticipation that I managed to swing by the Cottonwood Art Festival in Richardson a few weekends back - so many of these venues have been rained out this year ( as Roseanne Rosanna Danna would say, "It's lak my daddy always said.....it's always sumpin.") and swoop in to my painter friend Bonnie Seibert's booth to snag a painting. Hubster, in a fit of generosity, gave me a signed (blank amount) check made out to Bonnie and told me I could select my own Mother's Day Gift from her collection - really, this is the best way to handle these matters. I was deliriously happy, and got exactly what I wanted. I arrived early for the best selection and chose a painting from what Bonnie calls her "imaginary Paris in the 1920's" series. My mom, who is often my companion at these events, purchased a little girl standing in some flowers in a meadow- very Marna Towteeish of her. We are fortunate, in these harsh economic times, to have jobs that, while they will never make us rich, will never make us poor, either, and so I feel it is incumbent on me to do what I can to support the arts and various artists. I am quite happy to do this duty, as often as possible.