Monday, May 22, 2006
Beauty, Handsomeness, Goodness and Mortality
In 2004, the San Francisco Opera produced a fine version of "Billy Budd," an opera from the 1950s composed by Benjamin Britten with a libretto by E.M. Forster that includes the phrase "beauty, handsomeness, goodness" being addressed to the angelic Billy by the demonic Claggart.
I was among a couple of dozen supernumeraries (who are simply non-singing extras in opera-land), and we were referred to throughout rehearsals by the staging staff as "Super Seamen," which gave us a few giggles. I couldn't resist the opportunity to design a T-shirt based on the double entendre, though it takes some courage to wear it. However, today is my birthday, and it seemed a perfect time to sport the thing.
When I was learning to read at about age 6, the only story that stuck with me as an actual story was about a boy who couldn't decide what he wanted to be when he grew up. He longed to own a grocery store like his father but he also wanted to be a fireman like the guys down the city block. The entire tale was about his despair in trying to make a decision.
He finally became a grocer like his father, married and had children, but was still vaguely dissatisfied. At the end of the tale, he moved to the country and opened a grocery store there, and guess what also happened. The small town had a volunteer fire department.
I'm not sure why this "you can have your cake and eat it too" story resonated so strongly with me, but I realized today that I'm actually living the tale for real. Trying to make a living as a performer/artist is a brutal business, which only the truly lucky and gifted do well, but I get to be an amateur actor on a great stage. Journalism as a profession doesn't strike me as all that appealing, with editors and owners shaping one's stories, and not even being able to write one's own headlines or pick one's own photos.
Thanks to this photoblog, I get to be a "citizen journalist," and it's immensely fulfilling. Since I honestly believed at this time last year that I would not be alive to to see 2006, time has become so rich it's amazing. Now that I know my chances of living for quite a few more birthdays is real, there's an extra seasoning to each day too.
Katherine Braziatis, above, was a great, beloved supernumerary at the opera for many years. She battled breast cancer a few years back and won, and then drove head-on into a huge truck in her hometown of Ada, Oklahoma last week, which killed her instantly. Though I don't need any more reminders to treasure each day, this was yet another wake-up call. "La Forza del Destino" is more than just a great Verdi opera.