Today on my way home bought a copy of Burroughs' memoir, 'Dry.' Spent the rest of the afternoon and evening on my couch, totally absorbed--or was I simply dragged along? I feel beaten. A completely harrowing account of alcoholism, and the addictive personality in general.
So, I finished the book. I can't say I recommend it--so dark and searing--but it is brilliant.
Then I put on my old recording of Verdi's Falstaff (one of my desert island pieces, see next post). And only one phrase is necessary to dispel all the modern New York malaise, to lighten and transform all his misery. It breathes like the breeze Burroughs feels at an outdoor cafe, while he is falling in love, "that seems to have arrived via FedEx for this exact moment from a resort hotel in Cabo San Lucas." But it is an Italian breeze, where foibles are only foibles, characters are flawed but humanized with a Renaissance, understanding glow, with an entomologist's love of classifying human bugaboos, arranged in the garden of "types" which is almost the garden of Eden... The husband is jealous, Falstaff is fat and lustful, the ladies are scheming... it all works, and Verdi loves them all, MUSICALLY, with one sympathetic orchestration after another, one perfect fragment after the next... one perfectly nuanced Italian phrase (sentence? poem? song?) after another... like Jarrell says "the little themes that come in, flicker their wings once, and are gone forever."
I can put this together: the piece always makes me feel as though I am in love. Every phrase is in its honeymoon period; it never has time to grow stale or tired; it is supernaturally fresh.
The affection that passes through the music to the characters is enormous, an affection inflamed by imagination, inspiration. Whereas some operas seem to be enactments, spectacles, in which the human emotions are "translated" into musical terms, (from character outward, like hurling the voice out into the opera house) here the musical language is the original, the source of the stream ... the characters are not "projected" by the music, the music seems to flow into them, to fill them, to caress them (music "making love" to people, to character).
Why did "Dry" yield so emotionally for me to "Falstaff"? Passing so quickly from tragedy--fatal flaw, inescapable cycle--to comedy (also with inevitable flaws, organic but not tragic), like emerging from a modern fluorescent light into Italian sun. From a young man's self-hate to an old man's love for everyone.