Thursday, February 19, 2009

Living the music

As many of you know, about 8 years ago, my eldest child got our family into opera. She was a super in a production of Susannah at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and she fell in love, and got us all involved TOO. We are an opera family the way Sarah Palin is a hockey mom—it defines us and determines our schedule. Up until this season, my main contribution has been to subscribe to the season and serve as a chaperone to my Super Kids, (Supers are Extras, or live props, in an opera—non speaking, non singing roles). But this year, my daughter INSISTED that I audition with her to be a harem girl in Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio. I got the part—as understudy to all the shapely babes half my age. Ordinarily understudies get to hang out in rehearsals on a chair, but due to the large size of the super cast, and everyone’s schedules, some nights I am doing two and three parts, covering various positions for missing harem girls and Turkish women. The other night, I got the opportunity of a lifetime. In the end of the act one we have a scene, lovingly known as Harem Girls Gone Wild. After being dragged about on a rope through the scene, we are hauled onto the stage in the middle of a melee, and our guards drop our rope. Chaos ensues. One harem girl flings herself onto the back of our captor—Osmin, and holds on tight as he finishes singing and brings the curtain down.

Since I sub in often at the last minute, there were no introductions of us lowly supers. I knew the part, ran across the stage and flung myself onto the back of one of the best bass singers in the world: Andrea Silvestrelli. Trying not to interfere with his voice as a tried to figure out how to act this part and not fall off, I hung myself over his shoulders and wrapped my legs around his waist and then got the shock and thrill of my life. I have never hugged the speakers at a rock concert, but I imagine that would be close to the physical sensation of hanging off the back of a world class singer. His voice rattled my very bones. It filled up my entire molecular structure. It was like I plugged directly into the music. It was utterly unlike anything I have ever felt in my life. Silvestrelli is a giant of a man—we first met him when he was Fasolt in Das Rheingold, when we did like 6 operas in 5 months and lived at the Lyric. He is also a darling—nicest guy EVER. It lasted probably sixty seconds, the act ended, I jumped off and he turned around to see who I was (I am sure I weighed more than the regular girl) and I just smiled and said Hi! I am the New Girl. I mean after that—I could barely speak. I could still feel the vibration standing by myself.

It would be an amazing way for deaf people to come to know opera if the just could hug a singer while an aria came forth. A trained voice feels so different than a garden variety human voice. And that bass—it was like being hooked into the power source of the earth.

It has been an amazing week—I highly recommend immersing oneself in art to get through the winter doldrums—between watching a wonderful dress rehearsal of Cav/Pag at the Lyric to seeing last night’s recreation of Le Sacre de Printemps at the Joffrey to hearing music from the broad back of an opera star, I have hardly noticed the new snow fall and the biting wind chill. I am on a cloud, in a world of my own making……

Picture credit: Production design photo from Lyric Opera of Chicago

Friday, February 13, 2009


Spring poked her little head out last week and gave us a tease. Kind of strange to get a 60 degree day at the beginning of February. All kinds of surreal goings on—for example, they are giving us these personality tests at work. Someone went to some conference and got religion and now we are all having to do these questionnaires like the ones in the magazines in the grocery store check out line. By answering these questions we will unlock the fundamental secret of our budget challenged universe. This management tool will allow us to look beyond spending freezes, job eliminations, the fact that every single upper level manager took early retirement, and we will reach A Happy Workplace which will allow us to Create the Most Liveable City in America.

Now I am not exactly sure how some scoring system thought up by a bored housewife and her mother back in the middle of the last century is going to do all that, but at this point, I will try anything. Not much else from federal bailouts to pundit prognostication seems to be working. For myself, I am looking at Tarot cards and my Chinese Zodiac. I am a Metal Ox. In a way, I kind of knew that. I am the workhorse, sherpa personality, plugging away until its finally done. It is well and fitting that this is an Ox year. We need all hands on deck, putting their shoulders to the plow. We are going to need all the oxen we can muster. We are in one big pile of pickles and wishing, dreaming and knowing your personality type is not going to dig us out of this one. In addition to an Everest of elbow grease to get our economy out of the crapper, we are going to need no small measure of luck: We need to pull some good cards in this poker game. But I suppose we also need a pocketful of wishes and dreams to give us something to shoot for. And some sort of vision to yank us out of our snowdrifts into a future.

I pulled the Page of Cups while thinking about the economy, and that’s not exactly a hard edged How To practical card. Message from the Universe! Hang on to intuition and childlike wonder! So channel your inner Ox and let’s get cracking!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Unspeakable Tragedy

A child from my community died today. An unspeakable, unimaginable tragedy has occurred. A mother sent her child to school and he ended up dead.

The facts that are known are that he was found "unresponsive" yesterday in a bathroom. A bathroom in a school that my daughter went to last year. The police say that there is no evidence of foul play. School administrators say no other child is in danger.

How do they know?

My child’s therapist tells me that 10 year old boys almost NEVER hang themselves—jump in front of trains, throw themselves off buildings yes, but hanging takes a lot of planning. So we will wait and find out what happened.

We may never find out why.

In almost every sci fi book, movie or tv show, when it is time for the characters to go from one planet to another, or one time zone to another, there is a transition: Beam Me Up Scotty, Enter the Stargate and fall through the wormhole in space, Dr. Who and his Tardis (Time and Relative Dimension in Space). Whenever you transition, it is always a bit dangerous—there is always the episode or incident where something happens as you transition and you fail to materialize or show up on the other side. In this episode, everyone goes to heroic lengths to get you back and whole on the other side.

Children’s lives are full of Transitions. From home to school, class to playground, from home class to gym class, out of school to home again, or extended care program.

We need to pay attention to the transition almost more than the destinations, because its in the transitions that most space travelers get lost. The school systems here are not so good at this. My children, sensitive as rare tender aliens, have found this to be so. We have had a few occasions where they failed to attend or notice. I have screamed like a bloody banshee. And like Cassandra, I warned them.

My children find the school lunch rooms to be their worst a nightmare—a district wide answer to the vast chaos of deep space. You could lose an entire race of beings in that madhouse.

Some children have a tough time navigating the G force of so many transmigrations in a day—their home ship may not be the big safe order of an Enterprise, or they may be aliens unaccustomed to our atmosphere. Maybe they do not speak our language. We may never know why this child did not make it through the wormhole to the other side.

When we are having trouble getting around in the galaxy, we need a Yoda and the Force to help. It is time to figure out what that looks like for our community. Maybe parent guides at transition points? I am good at questions, a little spotty on answers, but at this point I will try anything.

As I keep saying we are so worried about the numbers of what is going on in the class on the paper that we are losing sight of the actual spiritual, emotional, social, precious irreplaceable child. Even though I do not consider myself to be wise, and I certainly do not have the ears of Yoda for it—I volunteer here and now to be a Jedi Master for all the children in my town. I will pay attention to the transitions. I will keep my eyes and ears open

Monday, February 2, 2009

Blago for dummies

My relatives and friends who have not seen the blood sport that Chicago politics has always been are mystified by the theater that was our former Governor who may be joining the traditional retirement home for our former governors: behind bars. They have heard the tapes and wonder how he can go on national television with a straight face and claim he has done no wrong.

The thing you need to understand is that Blago truly believes in his soul that he has done no wrong. If ever the FBI were to tape our Cook County Board President, Todd Stroger, or the phone calls of the current Da Mayor, they would hear conversations remarkably similar than the ones transcribed in the New York Times. Mr. Blagojevich knows, just as George Ryan did, that EVERYONE does it (remember your teenager feeding you the same line about staying up after curfew?)

Illinois has a very unusual political training ground. You see, here in Chicago, politics is a coliseum worthy affair. Bring on the Lions, and the biggest meanest guy wins. Most everything gets decided in a back room, constantly revised ethics policies aside. There is blood and gore and drama. All is fair in hiring and government contracts. Blago forgot that you get by with a little help from your friends, and by the end he had nary a one, but a man who married into the machine that is Chicago politics learned early on that it is true if you say it is. Especially if you keep saying it on national tv in interviews timed for the news cycle.

We like to believe this cannot exist in a democracy—that My Way or the Highway Despotism only exists in banana republics and failed African democracies (There is No Cholera in Zimbabwe Mugabe) so it’s a little weird that Rod the Hairdo got legally (???) elected twice. But money talks in politics and he who has the most usually wins, even if you are electing the first Black president. So here we have, in real life, a rise and fall of epic proportion, another act in the ongoing circus that is our unique brand of politics, and something to take our mind off the fact that the state has a multi-billion dollar shortfall. Makes me feel all warm inside.