I love this artwork by Luciano Lozano – Getty Images. It is raining. The sky is overcast. The clouds are oppressive. It is a gray day. Everyone, even the bird, has his shoulders hunched and his head down. Everyone except the girl in yellow. She could be wearing a yellow parka, or… more likely she shuts out unpleasant by living in a bubble.
Intrigued by the bubble concept, I’ve worried it to death. I have cut back on the amount of news I read or listen to, but is living in a bubble really in everyone’s best interest? Is living in a bubble in my best interests? Am I on the verge of becoming a recluse?
And then this past Saturday, we drove to Pueblo to watch the Metropolitan Opera streaming a live production of “Nabucco,” to our local cinema. I was not familiar with the opera, but I was drawn to seeing Placido Domingo singing under the baton of James Levine. In short, the plot has Nabucco, king of the Babylonians, defeating the Hebrews who are then exiled from their homeland. And if this sounds too grim and political, the opera also has romance and a father/daughter conflict. Knowing that you don’t go to the opera for a plot, I won’t be giving anything away by writing that all’s well that end’s well.
I don’t like to miss the Met Live in HD. See <www.metopera.org> for the season’s schedule and to find a cinema near you. This production was to die for. And I, floating through the lobby in a bubble of goodwill, was in a balloon of sorts as we left the theater. But the amazing part was that carried away by the heartfelt brilliance of the performance, each and every person leaving the theater was in his or her balloon. And all the balloons, some red, others green or pink, gently bumped one another under an umbrella of commonality.
Music had breeched the Great Divide. We were one people.
Following the screening, we joined friends for dinner where we shared our favorite moments of the opera. The staging (enhanced by carefully choreographed camera work to showcase the performers) was wonderful, but I voted for the overture in which the music, the musicians and the conductor came together in an emotional whole.
Levine and I are both 73. He has more talent. I have better health. Confined to a wheelchair, Levine has been beset by poor health to include curvature of the spine, compression on his spine, a herniated disk, and sciatica which have called for several back surgeries. In the past, a malignant cyst required the removal of a kidney. And, today he lives with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s.
And yet, despite his health issues, his joyous approach to conducting and music is infectious. Watching Levine (only feet away from me thanks to the camera work) I was swept into his world. He invited me in. He could have said, “You, who never moved past the basics with the piano… You are not deserving… Go home… Clean your cupboards!” But Levine didn’t even think those things. He opened the door and beckoned me in.
Sitting in an industrial-strength, 4-wheel drive, elevated wheel chair of tank-like proportions, Levine conducted the orchestra with a Second Coming smile. His smile was lit from within. Dwarfed by the size of the wheelchair, Levine reminded me of a happy garden gnome… a ceramic elf wearing a jerkin and a green Tyrolean pointed cap.
Despite his health issues, Levine soldiers on. But he does not carry a gun. Rather, he leads the rest of us sunshine soldiers: he is out front playing the flute. I need to follow him.
During one of the intermissions, the Met screened an interview with Levine and Placido Domingo that they had taped earlier in the week. The musicians reminisced about first meeting in San Francisco in 1971. Placido kept referring to James Levine as “Jimmy.” I love that! Despite his enormous talent, I think under the right circumstances (huddling together in a bomb shelter maybe) I could call him Jimmy also. Or not. Even in a bomb shelter, I’d have to call him Maestro.
Living in a bubble may buffer me from the vicissitudes of life, but my New Year’s Resolution is to step outside the bubble and surround myself with good people who will inspire me to be better than I am.