Today, on the bridge across Capilano River just before it enters the ocean, I watched First Nations People catch fish. They had arranged the rocks in the river to direct the fish to shallows. The fish were trapped. They could not swim past the rock barriers. The Indians, clad in cheap clothes and rubber waders, plodded into the rock-traps and with nets captured the fish that thrashed in death-agony. The fish were thrown onto rocks, bludgeoned, and cut open to be laid out in rows to dry.
I suppose this is a traditional thing. For the men and women stood on the banks of the river smoking and cheering. And the Anglo-Saxons and Persians stood on the bridge watching in silent awe.
So a long bike ride home to watch opera. This one L’incoronazione di Poppea. An opera by Claudio Monteverdi. He was the first to compose opera—this is the start of the art form: simple melodies, hard rhythms, tragedy, comedy, and the full display of human folly.
Nero is in love with Poppea and not with his wife Ottavia. He sings of Poppea’s ruby lips, apple bosom, pomegranates in the snow, and hard flint breasts. Nero cares not for the opinion of the common herd. He sings that he who delays pleasure prolongs agony. “In you, I find myself.” The final, hard clasp of lovers after love who loose themselves in an infinite joining of bodies and the sublimation of lust, time, and care. The silk of skin, shape, aroma, and the folds of flesh. Deny the common herd, and ascend for a time to perfection of shape and two-response. Such is opera. And the dates of a past Friday night.
For Nero life and love are a river running like a flowing stream that empurples the road to death. Seneca is told to die when he cautions Nero to beware Poppea. Seneca embraces death as the start of the infinite as he cuts his wrists in a warm bath. He is a philosopher and the court advisor to a tyrant. He must die when truth and ideology clash—particularly when the ideology is lust and false ideas of absolute power.
Words may be but flickering torches–in blogs, in opera, and in political adverts. But this opera should alert us to the dangers of those who lust after power, who emphasize the rights of the powerful and privileged, and who care not for the common herd. Nero sings “He who is born unfortunate should blame himself and not others.”
Sounds like Romney and Ryan and Republicans. If you are born unfortunate, there should be no health care, no free education, no roads, busses, or public transport to places of learning for you. Blame yourself, sink into poverty, stay where born, and hope for a tickle-down from those born fortunate. Meanwhile, we born-fortunate will change wives at will, take lovers as desired, drive expensive cars, ride thorough-bred horses, and suppress science in the pursuit of personal desire.
Funny how Monteverdi got it all into one opera four hundred years ago. Then again, maybe not to be wondered at. For there have always been Romneys and Republicans and there has always been a need to expose them in opera or in blogs.
While the opera ends “happy” with Nero and Poppea in each others arms, we must not foget that Nero eventually kicked the pregnant Poppea to death.