Thanks to histories most famous psychologist, tonights opera is always an open invitation to think about family, especially fathers and sons. While the oedipal complex may be disproved as an actual complex, it still works wonders as metaphor especially for artists. Tonights opera has me feeling nostalgic for family and the woods of my childhood; roots, branches and all that.
A place of waterfalls and ivy-climbing trees is Ridley Creek State Park. A place I learned to choose the best rocks for skimming over water, that dandelion leaves are edible, how to cross the river without slipping, and to pry rocks up with sticks and not hands because some have snakes under them. It was my Dad who taught me the tricks of the woods. Nothing helps one to remember to steer clear of itchy plants like the urban legends of the unfortunate campers who wiped their butts with poison ivy. He liked to sing “You are my sunshine,” and carry me on his shoulders when I got tired. From up there the world was grand potential but I had 20/20 vision for trouble.
Ridley Creek showcased a rotating cast of ever changing moments, but just as the seasons changed childhood gave way to independence. Even as a teenager reveling in reckless rebellion Ridley Creek remained a destination and a revelation. To ride bikes with girlfriends, to kiss under the culvert tunnel, to prep with friends for the five mile race through the hills of Media… Near the mansion of golden koi where people get married me and Pete tested the electric voltage with young bravado and those horses must have thought we were pretty stupid. When Grandmom suffered into a wheel chair, me and Rachel walked her along the creek to the waterfall; It was the season of tree frogs. I might have drifted from my father and family, but in spirit he was always there with me spotting the remarkable creatures and details of nature, and still is.
While Dad was a son of nature, Mom had more of a city vibe, a true city girl who liked parties and south street car races, but unfortunately locked in the suburbs by a traditional Italian family. She liked love the most, but only knew how to look for it in the most desperate people and places. When mom showed off her ‘bounce’ in cut-offs and tank top I was mighty proud when men in cars would beep and shout things, she was proud too, but no matter what Freud might think I never thought of her as a MILF; we both had pretty blue eyes, but not for each other.
The Oedipus metaphor for me is the struggle of belonging to two incompatible DNA’s. In me two conflicting strains born into an MTV world at end of the analog age, of course it’s complicated. Family, from Zeus to Hamlet is always complicated and ripe material for opera!
Oedipus Rex is a short work by Stravinsky, so Opera Philadelphia tonight is opening the evening with George Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning composition “Lilacs” based on Walt Whitman’s poem “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” about the funeral of Abraham Lincoln. The title humourously takes me once again back to Ridley Creek State Park and its neighbor The Tyler Arboretum. They are separated by a fence too tall for climbing, but one we climb anyway.
Me and Mike one day on a hike climb the fence to save a few dollars. Once over and through the Rhododendrons we puff-puff-pass and then it’s like entering Oz or Narnia. A windless yellow summer day. Stationary clouds decorate the sky when we come upon a large field of Lilacs. If beauty has a smell it is lilac. Next to backyard honeysuckle it is my favorite scent in the world. It’s taffy, blue raspberry water ice, a back-seat of soured Eternity perfume, hot showered morning Pantene all trapped in my hands like pools a miniature me can float…
“Yet the lilac with mastering odor holds me.”
Singer Tiffany Townsend delivers the opening of “Lilacs” so beautifully I think about how much music there is in the world to discover and how many things in the world in general still wait under rocks to discover and how different things can be with a fresh perspective and a little spirit of adventure, new sounds, new combinations, and new epiphanies.
The featured performance Oedipus is being performed as an oratorio (music without the staging). I almost left it off the blog, but I decided it should count because this is opera during a pandemic. Opera whilst wearing a mask. A woman near me is here for her first opera and I hope she tries again when all the elements are working together, she deserves the icing and decoration that go with the cake. She and the rest of the audience are wearing masks except for one monster a row over who is coughing and blowing her nose with her mask down. It’s a big ask for the ushers to enforce the masking when it’s such a polarizing symbol in our country as we ride the rollercoaster of new variants and outbreaks, but damn lady we all knew the theatre expectations when we bought the tickets.
Fumes from the Oracle of Delphi open the opera. Lilacs and waterfalls are on the periphery of my memory and the miles of memory that felt like choices line up and begin to feel like inevitabilities and even though Oedipus is still young and sees the world wide eyed, I know how this opera is going to end for him, not with lilacs and songs, but with ashes and blood. Until then, for as long as it may, let the lilacs odor hold me.
So What’s Oedipus Rex all about? Thanks to Sigmund Freud everyone knows about the famous story of the man who murders his father and marries his mother.
In the early days at Ridley Creek there was a natural mineral spring near the entrance that brought lines of people ready to fill large bottles or lean their mouth under after a good hike. Eventually a large company bought the rights and sealed the spigots but the place never lost its magic even as I grew to rebel against any other tradition thrown at me.
Notes on the Production
Composer………………………. Igor Stravinsky
Oedipus………………………….. William Burden
Jocaste…………………………… Rihanna Thelwell
Creon………………………………. Mark S. Doss
The Shepherd………………. Matthew Grills
Teiresias………………………… Jonathan Lemalu
Narrator………………………….. Charlotte Blake Alston
Conductor……………………… Corrado Rovaris
Chorus Master…………….. Elizabeth Braden