Monday, May 11, 2015

On Being Euridice

I have returned from the dead, or shall we say the unfortunate state of being nonresponsive in relation to a large part of my life, and I know that this is why Euridice has fascinated me for years. Even in the years wherein I was still wandering around in a what could be called partially as a lifeless stupor, deep inside I still hung on to the hope of redemption of life. Can love haul one from the underworld?

“Will you sing for me next week?” my old voice teacher asked me when I was visiting Paris last month.

I brightened up a bit thinking of my present repertoire, “Of course,” I said. “I could sing Euridice for you.”

Although 88, she was still sharp as a tack and seized upon the matter immediately. “The voice gets heavier and rounder with age, doesn’t it?” She stated suspiciously. She avoided asking me to sing the Gluck aria next time I saw her, my score lay in a plastic bag undesired.

True, when I sang in her opera class years ago I sang the role of Amor. When I sang in the opera class in Amsterdam, I did not sing Euridice. I sat on the sideline, irritated, watching another soprano sing Euridice. Of course, my voice was lighter then, and less formed, but it was the drama of Euridice I longed to experience as catharsis, expressing the inexpressible. It is possible that I understand the soul of the dead Euridice more than the average person.

“You may not discuss this with anyone.” I was told as a girl. I was thirteen, and I was no longer to have any contact with my grandmother. It had been decided. I had also been told that the matter would be handled. The suggestion was that things would eventually come around, or that is what I hoped as I was close to my grandmother in both resemblance and spirit. In my mind and heart, I intuited that I would see her again. Seventeen years down the road, I finally woke up and realized that things had been handled just the way my parents had perfectly decided they would be handled and they were fine by it. I wasn’t.  Seventeen years without contact and I went back, not heeding the warnings and threats that came by letter and phone calls from my parents, I was rising from the dead.

It was obvious that I had been written off as dead in one swift cleaving of the soul, for by the time my grandmother had died a second and final time in my life, I found myself cleaning out boxes in her garage. She had done as I had done; we had tried to forget each other. I found my old school photos, letters and mementos hastily thrown haphazard in a cardboard box shoved at the very back of the garage where the nose of the car normally blocked off the access.  I found my mother’s baby book hidden between the joints of the cupboard near the kitchen door, in an area that could only be reached by the highest ladder in the house.

Did others intercede in those dark years to try to fix the wrong? Yes, I can recall a few Amors, too few for my liking, flying about and not succeeding in repairing the communication cables. Being young at the time, I am not sure I was totally aware of the efforts, and I asked people specifically around the time my grandmother was nearing death. She, of course, had been delighted when I finally sent word asking to talk to her. Euridice sings, “What a proud moment, what a barbaric sort, too leave death behind, and be delivered into such pain.” The confrontation is excruciating.

I set out on my road to the living around the time that internet had commenced to make an entrance into our private lives. Residing in the Netherlands by then, one of the main reasons I left the states was due to the psychological damage of my family situation, I searched for my grandmother’s name online. You must understand no one was going to help me. Not only had the lines been severed to my grandmother, but utmost effort had been made to sever all other communication venues to her by way of other family members on either maternal or paternal sides. All information was held by my parents, and they categorically refused to assist me.

“You have a grandmother?” a friend of mine gasped at me when I told her of my plan. “I never knew you had a grandmother. You never mentioned her.”  

I found what seemed to be my grandmother’s phone number on line. I called America. I carefully asked the woman on the phone a few questions and finally admitted, “I am looking for my grandmother.”

There was a sharp inhalation on the other side of the world. “No,” the poor woman said finally, “I am not your grandmother.”

It occurred to me that this was not the right way to go about my task, and too painful to submit unsuspecting strangers to this process. I decided to try another angle. After searching my memory I recalled a trip to Montana.  To get to Montana, at the age of thirteen, in order to visit with a school friend who had moved mid-year from Berkeley to Helena, my grandmother had arranged that I should catch a lift with her brother over the Montana border.  Her brother had come for the summer family reunion that my grandmother had organized. As usual I was visiting my grandmother alone, without my parents, as I had done nearly every summer since I was quite small. My great-uncle and aunt loaded me up in their pick-up truck equipped with a camper, and dropped me off in Butte where I took a Greyhound to Helena.

I studied a map of Montana, looking for small towns over the state border near Butte. Then I launched searches for the last name of my uncle in those towns.  I found his son, and called to leave a message.

Within an hour my grandmother called me back. It was not the end of the unhappiness, it was an end of a period of numbness, genre my private death. Entering the world of the living again was extremely painful.

“I used to be contented,” sings Euridice struggling with the decision to go back to the world of the living, “With these placid surroundings, what if I lose my heart?”

“You give me goose bumps when you sing this,” a coach stared at me.

Hmmm…..coming up two performances of Orfeo ed Euridice, and I am in good company.  We are doing a shortened version of the Gluck opera, telling the story with dancers and singers and even a vocal ensemble is joining us on the 29th of May.

16 mei - 20:00 Orfeo ed Euridice - Amsterdam
De Boomspijker Rechteboomsloot 52

29 mei - 20:00 Orfeo ed Euridice & Via Schola Kwartet - Utrecht
Muziekhuis -  Loevenhoutsedijk 301




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