Tonight with my second-eldest grand-daughter we watched the DVD of Stephan Sondheim’s Company. A modern opera—as she said: ” This is opera, grandpa!?”The plot is simple: a number of couples, in love, married, divorced, and all crazy, sing of love, sex, and life. Robert, gay & illusioned, tries to understand the forces that keep crazy people together.
Like all operas this is a two-dimensional perspective of life. Simple, yet wrong. For life is four-dimensional. Like tonight: watching modern opera with a five-year old, while the Australian Shepherd dog seeks attention, the grandson is at karate, the children sit upstairs and snooze after hard work-days, and the ex-wife works selling diamonds & rubies at an upscale store in Long Beach.
Life is tragedy and joy. The exquisite pleasure of driving the ex’s red Mustang, replete with leather and Sirus radio to vast Huntington Beach book stores to buy Christmas presents for an extended family of relatives and friends. The Art of Pompei for the aspirant artist with its erotic blurred nudes; the CD comics Girl-Hero for the recently divorced thirty-year old who now wants to draw the definitive American comic book; the pretty calendar for the fifty-year old whose fat husband had an affair and now lives again with her in a-sexual virginity and over-weight inability; the gay son of old friends who loves a slim executive lady with an Obama health-industry company (yet grieves for his boyfriends who are married to rich ladies); the Algerian married to a Kansas Italian who is off to visit his white daughter who left her black lover and now is with an artisan who cuts metal to great precision; to my own on her fourth man of great sensuality compared to the platitudes of the first three.
For opera never seems to go beyond two generations: the mother & son; the father & daughter; or more often the two young lovers destined to die in a cold tomb. Whereas life is much more dimensioned: there are extended families: sons & daughters, grandsons & grand-daughters; and if you are really lucky, great-grand-children. There are ex-lovers, current lovers, and ex-spouses. All in a grand muddle of allegiances and emotions.
How do you tell that lovely lady that you go dancing with or who goes with you to the opera that you are still in love with the past and current forbidden? That there is an ex, now the husband of a rich other. That there is somebody down a quiet street of West Vancouver and nights of illicit flesh. How do you tell them you will not marry again–for life is now too short for the passion of perpetual. It is all the here & now of flesh and feeling.
Although past the age of indiscretion and propriety, you feel yet the youth of breeding in your bones and brain. Logic be damned. It is all about the bed; the dropping of clothes; the contour of flesh; the kiss; and the advance to climax.
As you drop back in a couch with a glass of strong alcohol, great music, shared family experience with a grand-daughter, and kids who have managed your outburst at bad engineering today, it is all worth it. This is life in its infinite variety and challenge. Sometimes you dream of a one-dimensional indulgence; often you revel in the two-dimensionality of opera; the third dimension beckons in the rainy street and high apartment of the West Side, and yet ultimately the reality of the four-dimensions of life prevail.
And you know you are blessed and happy to be part of so multi-dimensional an existence. To have studied, worked, earned, and suffered to the ultimate end of such complexity.