Monday, December 6, 2010

Fidelio, Beehotvan Opera


Synchronicity happens. A lot in my life. Today my opera class showed Fidelio, Beethoven's only opera. I had never seen it although I'd heard it on Met broadcasts. The DVD was an excellent perfromance from the Vienna Statoper with Leonard Bernstein conducting. The set was cleanly powerful and the singing was excellent. The story has some of grand opera's extremes and a few overlong arias. But the opera itself expresses Beethoven's concern for political freedom.

Fidelio is the pseudonym used by the wife of a political prisoner as she apprenticed herself to the jailer in order to get to her husband in the deepest dungeon. The tyrant he tried to expose and who has imprisoned him is about to murder him but Fidelio saves him and indeed at the last minute the tyrant's rule ends with the appearance of a representative of the king. The music and the restrained production give a sense of the horror of political imprisonment and of the enormous joy when evil is routed and freedom reigns. It's basically a fairy tale but has plenty of real life parallels not only in the past but in the present day with many a Floristan unjustly imprisoned and tortured. Few are reprieved.

What about synchronicity? I read this morning in the NYTimes that the California prison system is the most crowded in the US having stuffed twice as many people in the prisons as they were built to hold. That the treatment is so bad that approximately one prisoner dies every day for lack of medical services -- and this is not major medical but such things as not being given antibiotics for simple infections that should no longer kill people in the US. A judge has demanded that at least a quarter of the prisoners be released. Needless to say there is an outcry of people fearing an influx in their cities and towns of felons and a rise in crime rate.

The situation has now been ever more politicized than it was before. America has a far greater percentage of its population in prison than does any other country in the world. These are predominantly black and non-white males, predominantly young. We are warehousing men who scare us, men without adequate educations and without adequate possibility of employment. We are not attempting to educate these young men when they are adolescents and we are certainly not attempting to rehabilitate them in any way while they are in prison. No, they aren't in dungeons without light as in the opera but everything one reads about the conditions are equally inhumane.

Beethoven cared deeply about freedom and finished his last magnificent symphony with an ode to the joy of freedom and brotherhood. And Fidelio ends on the same theme. It is a dream that has yet to be realized in most countries.

4 comments:

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

June -- I find it deplorable what we are doing to our poor young, uneducated citizens. Why not use the money we spend to support them in prison, which I understand is quite high, and educate them and give them some opportunities. I know it is a messy problem but just dumping them back into the society without a safety net seems absurd. -- barbara

June Calender said...

I SO agree, Barbara. But bureaucrats don't think like sensible women who say take the same pot of money and spend it this way. Doesn't happen. Quite a number of things make me ashamed to be an American a this point in our history, the penal system is one of them. And the problem is not California alone.

Kass said...

Very thoughtful observations.

Side note: Beethoven is extremely difficult to sing.

June Calender said...

Yes, I thought about that Kass. His first choral piece was never performed in his lifetime. Also many instrumentalists considered much of his music impossible to play. Genius makes great demands on others -- and raises the bar ever after.