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Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Nature of His Game

The three-part Hawaii Opera Theatre's season opened last night with Faust. As a non-opera-loving friend said earlier, "That's the one about the guy who sells his soul to the devil, right?" Indeed, the Faust legend is deep and complicated and, despite an opera plot that seems dated by contemporary standards of drama and real life (who cares if someone has a baby out of wedlock, conceived by a devil-driven rogue) still has a lot of appeal in an era where moral integrity and success seem to be so easily compromised, at least as witnessed in economic and political news of the day.

Throughout the well-received production, I was looking for Taoist themes, an exercise that seems a little like meditation, to the extent that between acts I was googling on the iPad, Faust+Tao, but found nothing really. (Not talking, the Wizard was playing solitaire on his iPhone, willing himself to suppress the flu-based cough he's had since MLK Day.)

The opening act was stunning. Decrepit and sooty (oh wait, this is Gounod, not Wagner), Faust is complaining to a corpse on a gurney about his frustrations with philosophy, science, and religion to explain life...and dammit, why must he get old? (Well, don't we all, d'un certain age, ask that one?) Suddenly the corpse animates. A lithe stylish, tastefully leather-clad rock star arises from under the shroud.

"Please allow me to introduce myself," he seems to say.

Then you notice the tiny horns sprouting from his forehead, and there is indeed something troubling about his game. Sympathy for the Devil was not part of the score, but this guy (Jamie Offenbach, Hawaii-born, but with roots even less developed than Obama's) could have done it really well, channeling Mick the way Johnny Depp does Keith in his pirate persona. HOT's devil-in-leathers also sported gorgeous long shiny silky black hair that rivaled any of my Wuxia heroes'. His little nubs of horn kept growing from act to act, and by the finale it was pretty obvious who he was; his smooth leather pirate boots grew a lot of goaty fringe and cloven-toed hooves and he looked more and more menacing. Though not the protagonist, he kinda stole the show. (Or maybe it was just me.)

Mephistopheles...Satan!... appears to be a manifestation of Faust's deluded craving for knowledge and lust for youthful life (especially in the form of a chaste young lady.) Kind of a Taoist theme, I guess, with really horrible consequences.

The final scene in which the naive Marguerite, shunned and imprisoned for giving birth illegitimately to Faust's child, languishes, even killing her infant, in her jail cell. Faust and the Devil appear on the scene of battle over her soul. We think Mephistopheles wins: "Judged!" But no, it's almost a reprise of Shen Yun, and the angels sing, "Redeemed!" Marguerite casts off her earthly shell and ascends to heaven. With the dead baby left lying on the prison floor, it's a creepy scene, and I longed for the Falun Gong angels to descend to take HIS poor soul to Heaven's Gate. There are some unresolved plot points here.

Now that I'm thinking of it, Shen Yun was the opener of the opera season, which this year at least includes no Wagner. Next up, Lucia di Lammermoor, which shares place setting, though not plot, with Brigadoon, a Lerner and Lowe Broadway musical in which I was a chorus member in a high school production. That was a period when kilts were faddish, something that occurs from time to time. Off-hand I can think of no other Scottish-themed extravaganzas, except Mel Gibson's Braveheart, which I don't think had any kind of musical enhancements. Just half-naked men being tortured, a favored theme of Mr. Gibson's.

And today...Lunar New Year festivities in Chinatown. I look forward to seeing the 150-foot-dragon dance/parade and poking around in the shops for an amulet to "protect" the Rooster-Wizard during the Year of Rabbit (Tu) which begins next week (Feb. 3). I must paint some more rabbits; lao shi said Monday, at the first class of the painting season, my little shui mo bunny was good (she's no Tiger Mom teacher) and I should practice more. Her own rabbit painting is richly colorful; for some reason my qi is stuck in a black and white mode, like black and white photography. The seven shades of Tri-X.

Color is eluding me. Shall I summon help from the underworld?


tao1776 said...

You really impress me to no end. And that's hard to

baroness radon said...

Thanks! Just to be clear about it, there is no price on my soul.

Does "ki" mean something? (Apart from qi in Japanese.)