Another SF Opera in the Park has come and gone and once again, it was magnificent. Greedy for our image of paradise, I suppose all would have preferred the sun to shine instead of sitting in the swirling fog, but once the music began—and with a sweatshirt on—nobody cared. It was especially refreshing to hear such artistry after having just seen Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins. As always, Ms. Streep delivered a stunning performance, but her character was a rather eccentric socialite who couldn’t sing— and did. In front of audience after audience, culminating in Carnegie Hall. Some enjoyed her in the sense of “so bad that she’s good!” campy way, but for a music teacher, it was both amusing and torture to hear song after song sung flat with the musicality of a chicken being strangled. But I digress.The point is that these opera singers were in exquisite control of their instrument and delivered not only with finesse and nuance, but with the dramatic presence that opera demands.
This was the second time that the date fell on September 11th. The first time, some five years ago, the entire performance was Mozart’s Requiem and I well remember the power of that experience, one of the world’s masterpieces made yet more poignant in memory of those fallen in that brutal act of terror. At the time, I remember also invoking the September 11th of the Chilean overthrow, another act of terrorist proportion backed by our own CIA. And at such times, I personally remember the dispossessed Native Americans and enslaved Africans, the ones we keep trying to forget—and apparently, far too successfully. (Let me add here that I chose not to stand for the National Anthem at the beginning in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick calling attention precisely to the issue mentioned above. It felt right.)
This time, September 11th was honored with some visionary songs to the left of the opera repertoire. It began with the spiritual All Day All Night accompanied by piano, followed by Somewhere from West Side Story, then the ukulele version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Pene Pati, a Samoan New Zealander and capped off with John Lennon’s Imagine sung by baritone Lucas Meacham who had the good taste to sing in a non-operatic style. A refreshing shift from the previous styles and reminder that good music is good music. And then back to Verdi’s Libbiamo from La Traviata with the obligatory champagne toast. The afternoon, like the champagne, was bubbly, sweet, effervescent and refreshing.
The song that somehow hit home for me was Bernstein’s Somewhere. It’s so easy to feel alone in your sense of alienation from what’s going on as reported by the news. You know there are thousands, millions, perhaps billions, who share your simple vision of life lived with more life, love, creation and happiness, less death, hate, destruction and sorrow, but you find it difficult to feel them by your side. And so the lyrics of hope that indeed there is “a place for us,” that the simple act of holding hands (the first moment of every workshop I’ve every given) can take us “halfway there,” that we indeed can and in fact, must, “find a new way of living, find a way of forgiving.” I left the school on Friday after a lovely day of teaching at school (followed by a beautiful tribute to my dear friend and colleague Sofia, honoring her 20 years of school), I left my workshop yesterday, I left the park today, with an unshakeable conviction that the place for us is here and the time for us is now. Not some dream world in the far-distant future, not a heaven casually promised by the believers, but a somewhere that is the ground we walk on and a some time that is the inhale and exhale of each breath. If we walk together holding hands one step at a time, one breath at a time, then hope will be by our side. May it be so!