Slow Listening Saturdays: The goddess of the island

So the last few days at Glimmerglass have been overwhelming. Yesterday we played our fifth performance of Ariadne with one of American’s great Ariadnes in attendance. Miss Jessye Norman herself was in the house! She gave a masterclass yesterday afternoon before the show, and was elegance personified as she kindly and firmly led four young singers through their texts. It’s not often you’re in the presence of an icon. We were humbled and honored by her. I was also floored by the gorgeous and sensitive playing of her accompanist, Mark Markham.

Days like this feel like a gift, all things conspiring (Jessye Norman, young talent striving, audiences admiring, Strauss himself having given you a road map to paradise) to hand you a performance that is an opportunity, a chance to say thanks. Christine Goerke was, as always, breathtaking as die Göttin dieser Insel, or the goddess of the island as she’s called in the opera. And yet there were more gifts to be had this morning, when I went to a patron’s brunch in Cooperstown (stopped by people in the street several times, who wanted to talk about Christine’s performance – how great is that?). Development events like this are part of what we all do, nurturing and building our audience. I was seated next to a remarkable woman, a retired psychologist from Connecticut. She had started her career late, she told me, because she had followed her anthropologist husband to a small Pacific island for his work. In those days, the woman didn’t ask, she went. Did you regret that, I asked?

“Not at all!” Her face shone. “I would never trade that year. You can’t imagine these days what it was like, with no contact to anyplace else. We had a hurricane that year, and we were alone in our little thatched hut, me, this girl from the East Side. After that I knew I could do anything.”

We kept on talking about opera, this Ariadne and I, she who had survived her Naxos and come back from it changed.

What was I saying? A road map to paradise. Here’s Miss Norman from 1979 singing Strauss’ Four Last Songs, composed at the end of his life. They are great meditations on life and death, on time, on change. Watch this regal woman serenely laying out the words and melody, and watch her conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch lead and follow at the same time. These songs take some time. Listen slow.

And then share, like an artist shares with a student, like a stranger shares a story over coffee. There’s no performance without someone to listen. Make another listener this week. Share the Slow.

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