Tag Archives: Opera

Some Reflections and Observations

“Monday Musings” for Monday October 13, 2013

Volume III.  No. 39/133

excesses_

By Assad Meymandi, MD PhD, DLFAPA*

Reflections

Three things I do not understand:

1)  CEOs of big businesses like Merrill Lynch who send their companies to near bankruptcy and exit with a quarter billion dollar retirement package.

2)  Coaches who compile a less that a mediocre record, yet get contract extension and a whopping raise in their salaries sending their annual compensation into millions while our teachers barely make ends meet.

3)  Student athletes who can barely read and write. They work like slaves to generate a product with sales in the billions of dollars yet they get punished for accepting any gift from fans. This is a repetition of 17th adn18th century slavery, and the epitome of hypocrisy and unfairness. The entire system is unethical. It should be illegal and ought to be banned. One reasonable solution is to pay the student athlete a salary and pay teachers to tutor them and bring up academically, while they play their sport.

 World Chess Championship in Raleigh

Masters from all over the world will be convening for 2014 chess championship. The 2013 champion is a 22 year old Norwegian, Magnus Carlsen who became a grandmaster at age 13.  It would be exciting if our Raleigh Visitor’s Bureau would attempt to bring the match to Raleigh.

I was privileged to be in Reykjavick in 1972 and see the late Bobby Fisher playing chess with his Russian opponent Boris Spassky, about whom I have written in the past. What impressed me about the young Bobby, besides his bad behavior and total paranoia and mistrust for everyone, was his total mastery of the game, and his brilliance. His kind of brilliance was unfortunately blinding and not illuminating. It was more damaging than benefiting.

To me, Bobby Fischer was a good reminder of Richard Wagner (1813-1883), the most brilliant opera composer, writer and thinker of the 19th century. Wagner’s biological father was a Jew. Like Wagner, Fischer was also born to Jewish parents, yet like Wagner, in his life time, he piled an incredible amount of derogation and insult on Jews.  Like Wagner, Fischer was an unrepentant and zealous anti-Semite.

There are plenty of reasons to bury the memories of Bobby Fischer and let him fade into dustbin of oblivion. But his brilliance in chess may be selectively used as a role model for teaching focus, determination and devotion to learning to our young people. He provides a good example of how to train the brains of our children and grandchildren.  Let us celebrate him, and his contributions to the honored and honorable game of chess.

 David Edwards/Le Laboratoire

David Edwards, a professor of Biomechanics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has started a gallery at the Louvre Museum in Paris that truly combines science and art, dealing with how a primitive, nondescript stem cell is transformed into a neuron. David is so good at what he does, and I am so impressed by his brilliant mind and abundant practical imagination, that I think any one going to Paris ought to plan to go see this exhibit. He is so much in touch with how science and humanities overlap that we might invite him to become a Meymandi Fellow at the National Humanities Center in RTP.

 Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Domestic Violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The ravages to two wars US has been involved for the past dozen of years is directly related to ever higher incidence of PTSD. More human lives (both male and female) are lost to domestic violence. 2011 recorded the highest number since we have been keeping records. The victims, especially children, are severely scarred and emotionally abused. Domestic violence is of epidemic proportion in certain segment of our society. Iraq war has worsened the rot on families of military returnees who experience post- traumatic stress disorder.

Fortunately, we have Interact of Wake County, a worthy organization that is taking the matter of domestic violence seriously. Interact is providing safety, shelter and emotional support for the victims and their families. Interact is shining light on the murky and unpleasant landscape of this unwelcome epidemic. Interact deserves the support of everyone.

 Repulsive Public Events

It is unconscionable for print and electronic media to devote so much space and time to absolutely repulsive stories dealing with people consuming huge amounts of food (hot dogs and doughnuts) for a cause or a prize. We have seen these races where people gorge 12 doughnuts or 2400 calories to run four miles which burns about 400 calories, to raise money for a worthy cause. The goal of raising funds for a worthy cause is holy, but the method is most repulsive. With the epidemic of obesity causing diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, I believe your story to encourage gluttony, profligacy and self indulgence was most unwise. I believe people ought to be encouraged to fast, lower caloric intake, and lose weight, while they run and engage in fund raising.

 Beethoven, The Mysterious Metaphysical Force of Deity

In 1824, Ludwig Van Beethoven was deaf. He was ill, temperamental, grouchy and uncooperative. He was 53 years old and ready to die.Yet he composed the majestic Ninth Symphony. I have heard the Ninth in many venues in Europe, Australia, America and even Africa, to audiences of tens of thousands. NC Symphony’s performance under the baton of Maestro Grant Llewellyn belongs right up there with the National Anthem of Europe conducted by the late Leonard Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic…Bravo!

 An Opera House for Raleigh

Gaetano Donizetti was one of the three bell canto opera composers (the others were Giacomo Rossini and Vincenzo Bellini) who made brutal demands on the vocal cords of his lady singers. We need to bring more of their operas to Raleigh. Also, the idea of Raleigh having its own opera House is most intriguing.

Raleigh is inching closer to becoming a late 16th century Florence where the arts, music, poetry and dance flourish; where brisk intellectual conversation and children’s laughter fill the air of its vast parks; where fountains flow with life and energy and where academia and business meet their maximum potentials. Raleigh is the essence of the NC State’s Motto, “Esse Quam Videri”, to be rather than to seem. Perhaps we can fit the new opera house in soon to be born Dix Park.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On Opera’s Relation to Buddhism and Sufism

Monday Musing”, for Monday October 7, 2013

Volume III. No. 38/132

E9 Bayreuth  Margravial Opera Stage

Bayreuth Margravial Opera House

A Few Words About The Opera

and

How it Relates to Buddhism and Sufism

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Yesterday, October 6, 2013 was the 413th anniversary of western opera (see below). The first opera, Orpheus (Orpheo) and Eurydice was composed by Jacobo Peri and performed at Piti Palace in Florence on October 6, 1600. This date marks the beginning of Western Opera. Before that earlier in late 1590’s there was an experimental composition named Daphne, and of course before all that there was Greek opera some 2000 years earlier. In 1607 Montverde re-wrote the same opera, Orpheo and Eurydice which remains in the repertoire after 406 years.  To observe the holy birth of the opera, here are some thoughts:

Why Opera?

There are four powerful instruments used for introspection and research on self.  One can learn more about one’s self through psychoanalysis which is usually very expensive and time consuming. The other tools are studying history, theater and poetry. The last but certainly not the least is understanding and studying opera. Opera, a combination of words and music, offers us the most comprehensive and potent introspectoscope. Opera gives the participant an opportunity to become aware of one’s unconscious in dynamic gradation. Do we as viewers possess at least some of the evil and sexual identity confusion that eclipses Iago and Othello (in opera Otello)? Are we endowed with passion that made Don Jose kill Carmen? Are we capable of transcendence that come with the Zoroastrian parables in Wagner’s Ring Cycles? In order to get to know ourselves better, I believe opera should be an integral part every citizen’s cultural and intellectual diet. It is much less expensive that psychoanalysis, and while being intellectually stimulating, it is more enjoyable and entertaining.

History of Opera:

Opera is an Italian word. It means work. In the late 16th Century a group of Florentine scholars decided to get together every week and study the music and writings of the ancient Greek.  They called themselves the Florentine Camarata. It was very much like our modern day book clubs, except that these people were very serious about their work. The culmination of these studies and discussions was Jacobo Peri’s composition of Orpheo which was performed at 8:00 PM, October 6, 1600, at Piti Palace in Florence.  Of course in 1607 Claudio Monteverdi gave us his version of Orpheo. It marks the beginning of Opera. We have enjoyed 400 years of opera as result of the intense work of this group.

Types of Opera:

Italian opera dominated Europe throughout the 16th and early 17th centuries.  Around 1670’s, French opera, with its founder and inventor Jean Baptist Lully (1632-1687), emerged. Lully was an Italian orphan who immigrated to Paris at age 14. He rose to become the court composer for the Sun King, Louis 14th, who rained for 73 years. Lully gave us the French Overture and its dotted rhythm brings on grandeur, pomposity and majesty meant for Louis 14th. Other French composers followed: Jean-Philip Rameau, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Christoph Willibald Von Gluck, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Bizet etc. There are German, Russian, Chinese, and now many third world country operas. Also, there are lyric opera, grand opera, opera buffa and opera seria, just to name a few. I have chosen Carmen as an example of illustrating the power of the opera.

Carmen is an opera comic in four acts. It was written by Georges Bizet. He was a genius. Bizet died penniless at age 38, exactly three months after Carmen was staged. Had he lived three more years, he would have reaped immense wealth because of Carmen’s success all over Europe. Perhaps Bizet and Van Goch were soul brothers. They lived in poverty, yet after death, their work’s value increased immensely. Bizet knew music and composition. His musical compositions at age 17 easily compare to the music of Mendelssohn and Mozart. His one act opera in 1857, Le Docteur Miracle, shows his mastery of operatic idiom at an early age.  In Act II of Carmen, the accelerating gypsy dance is an orchestral tour de force in which dissonance and sliding harmonies paint the scene of Lilla Pastia’s underworld tavern. Bizet knew human nature.  He was as keen as Shakespeare when it came to assessing human nature. The famed German philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche, in an essay on Carmen, wrote that he saw the opera 21 times.  “Every time I see Carmen, I sit still for five hours, I become more patient which is the first step of true holiness…”

Carmen is a story about love, not of higher order, but as futility, cynical, cruel and at best deadly hatred of two sexes. Love translated in the horror proclaimed in Don Jose’s last cry “yes, I have killed her…I have killed my adored…” Carmen, the epitome of carnal desire, temptation and primal raw sexuality, is the Eve and the serpent rolled in one. In act III she sees her mortality in the cards that she and her gypsy friends were reading. She gave into her fate and led a reckless life. Don Jose, a decent and simple soldier when he first met Carmen, turns into a love crazed killer. He is Adam. He is Kane. He would not have been transformed into a killer if the violence and killing were not in him to start. There is a bit of Adam, though deeply hidden, in all of us. Don Jose is Adam. Jose’s unrestrained male sexuality and machismo ultimately caused his destruction.

Perhaps like Nietzsche who claimed to become a better philosopher every time he sat through a performance of Carmen, we can see this very deeply moving and instructive work as the beginning.

Opera, Sufism and Buddhism:

One must read the 19th century German Philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) ,whose writings are very much imbued in Sufism and Buddhism to understand, “To be, one must first not be…” Richard Wagner (1813-1883), the genius anti-Semitic German musician and composer of opera (he hated the word opera because it is an Italian word and he hated Italians(!) and who called his work “Music Drama”), was a disciple of Schopenhauer. His operas, especially Tristan and Isolde, and the Ring Cycle consisting of four operas, 18 hours, are full of Zoroastrian parables and Buddhist reference to “nothingness” before becoming “something.” This ruthless, racist and megalomaniacal genius not only composed his own operas, but wrote the libretto and conducted the work. His compositions are not just opera but an all encompassing Gesamtkunstwerk, like a super bowl half time show! The writings of Rumi, Shams Tabrizi and Baba Taher Oryan, all Persian Sufi Poets, assert the Buddhist notion of the issue of “being”, the western concept of which is called ontology. I am inserting an essay on opera from years ago to whet your appetite.

In my mind, opera continues to be the most complete art form. It has the greatest capacity for communication and impact per second of any other art form including my most favorite art form, classical music. What I wonder is when and where in NC we will see some modern operas the list of which is approaching 90. I have noticed and admired the Met’ s willingness to add some of the modern operas such as Cyrano de Bergerac with Placido Domingo as Cyrano, Sondra Radvanovsky (Roxanne), and librettist Henry Cain, this season. I yet to see any opera by Michael Tippett, Hans Verner Henze and Olivier Messiaen (I saw his Saint Francois D’Assie in Paris several months ago), and other composers. As a psychiatrist we try to help people with addiction. Addiction to opera is one addiction that I recommend.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

 

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On Music, Humanities and Religion in Our Lives

“Monday Musings” for August 12, 2013

Volume III, No. 30//123

Jan-VERMEULEN-after-1654-«Still-Life-with-Books-and-Musical-Instruments»-panel-33-x-38-cm

Down Memory Lane…

124,000 Prophets, 5000 Music Composers…

Music, Humanities, and Religion in Our Lives

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

As a child, I grew up memorizing the 114 Sura(s) of the Islamic Bible, the Holy Quoran. Along the way, we were tested on all 6666 verses, and 77,457 words of the magnificent text. Also, we learned passages from the Hindu Holy Book, Bhagavad Gita (Ghandi read it every morning upon arising and every night before retiring to bed), Zoroaster’s Avesta, and chapters from the Jewish Bible, the Torah. In addition, the Jesuit school, College Saint Louis where I attended, emphasized instructions about memorizing the Western and European literature beginning with French. We learned that the Christian Bible has 66 books, 39 in Old Testament, 593,493 words; 27 books in New Testament, 181,253 words; a total of 774,746 word in the entire Christian Bible (not hard to memorize!). Just an aside, Shakespeare has 118,406 lines and 884,647 words…Astonishing!  Did Shakespeare know more words than God? Sheer blasphemy!

Faithful readers of this space recall my love affair with Mother Simone of College Saint Louis, awe of Father Bertunesque, and sheer terror of Mon Pere Superior, the school Headmaster. Mother Simone was a toughie! She was to teach us “Les Literatures Francaise de dix-huitieme siècle” (18th century French literature) but she began the year with 15th century Francois Rabelais (1494-1553), then crisscrossing  all époques and periods, she covered Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), Charles de Montesquieu (1689-1755), Voltaire (1694-1778), Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1754), Alphonse Chateaubriant (1877-1951), Alfonse de La Martin (1884-1947), right up to Marcel Proust (1871-1922), Emil Zola (1840-1904), Albert Camus (1913-1960) and Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980). Note that some of those writers were still alive in the 1940’s when I was going to that school, but just the same, they all came in purview of Mother Simone’s course of 18th century literature!  In addition, she somehow succeeded in ‘horseshoeing’ foreign philosophers, such as British John Locke (1632-1704) and German Philosopher, Friedric Hegel (1770-1831) and others because their thoughts and teachings were consonant with the French authors she was tackling. The closeness of John Locke with Montesquieu is a good example.  She used to say Montesquieu and Locke go together like oeufs et jambon (ham and eggs!)

Mon Pere Bertunesque was a tall wiry priest with a long pointed beard/goatee, and deep set brown eyes that invited a lot of dark shadows in the sockets making his eyes appear to be set deeper. He had a penetrating gaze that ‘pierced a hole in granite.’  He would not inflict corporal punishment. His gaze was enough…

We had additional memorizing to do: every Persian child from educated families memorizes Persian poets whose books asymptotically approach the popularity, if not the holiness, of the Holy Quoran. They are the collected work (Kolliat) of Hafiz (1337-1406), Saadi (1210-1290), Rumi (1207-1273), Kahjeh Abdollah Ansari (1006-1088), Baba Taher Oryan (around 1000-1055—accurate dates are unknown) and of course the epic poets such as Ferdowsi (940-1020). British scholarship holds that John Milton (1608-1674) followed Ferdowsi’s style and metrics in writing Paradise Lost. To all this add the basic sciences, chemistry, physics, mathematics, trigonometry and astronomy, plus the arts  (music, painting or calligraphy, Naskh and Nastaaleegh), and you will have the rich curriculum of College Saint Louis.

Composers Parallel Prophets

With all this exposure to so many religions, we learned that there are 124 thousand prophets sent by God, starting with Adam, and ending according to the Christians with Christ who will appear on the Day of Judgment (book of Revelation). In Islam it is Imam Mehdi (Imam ASSR-or contemporary Imam) who will appear on the judgment day…  These prophets have been sent to make human lives more righteous (the word righteous means tuned), to make life peaceful, without friction, just like a toned engine, with no friction and no inefficiency or waste. I have been seeking parallels between religious prophets who brought us righteousness, all 124,000 of them. My conclusion is that a handful of music composers, people like Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, including Chevalier de Saint George, known as the Black Mozart (1745-1799), and the British Mozart, Samuel Wesley (1766-1837), nephew of the famed theologian John Wesley, founder of Methodist Church, who brought us music, basically accomplished the same thing as the prophets. They brought us harmony, joy, and peace.

The list of these 5000 world famous composers, far shorter than 124,000 prophets, start with French composer Adolph Adam (1803- 1856) through Russian composer Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880) provides the reader with an astonishing source of power and sublime beauty. Music like religion is life changing. Composers of music, like prophets, have brought God’s gift of peace and joy and promise of redemption to mankind. Having music as a part of one’s life and vocabulary is a privilege. Music, especially Viennese/Northern German classical music with its rich harmony, and melismatic Italian/Southern European music with its rich melody, are necessary for life like food and oxygen.  Symphonic music elevates the majesty of human soul.  As psychiatrists, we fight addiction.  But here is a case where I advocate addiction: addiction to reading the Holy celestial books, and drowning one’s self in a sea of classical music and Opera.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On Wagner and Opera

Monday Musings” for Monday May 20, 2013

Volume III, No. 19/122

Wagner

Happy Birthday to Richard Wagner: A Few Thoughts about Opera

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA

Day after tomorrow is Richard Wagner’s 200th birthday (May 22, 1813- February 13,1883). We celebrate his bicentennial natal anniversary with joy and some added reflections: Wagner was a German musician, opera composer, and a disciple of the German  philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, (Feb 22, 1788- September 12, 1860) with whom he split over the issue of “toleration”. Wagner was truly a genius. But he hated the Jews and the Italians, all of whom he called barbarians. He also hated the word opera because it is an Italian word and he thought Italians are of a lower race. Instead, he called his work “Music Drama“. Wagner was a contemporary of Verdi (October 10, 1813-Jan 27, 1901), the world famous and renowned Italian Opera Composer. Toward the end of his life, Wagner had a change of heart about Italians and had some good things to say about Verdi. But he remained a staunch anti-Semite.

Richard Wagner, the ruthless, racist and megalomaniacal genius not only composed his own opera but wrote the libretto (pleural, libretti), designed the stage, and conducted the work. His compositions are not just opera but an all-encompassing Gesamtkunstwerk, like the Super Bowl halftime show! In addition to writing the libretto, composing the music, and designing his sets, he was a brilliant prose writer. I recommend getting a hold of some 12 volumes of his original work and read them for the sheer power of their syntax and thematic composition.

He also architecturally created the Bayreuth Opera House where his work was produced and staged.  After 200 years, almost all of his operas including Flying Dutchman, Ride of Valkyries, Tannhauser, and Die Meistersinger Von Numberg are a steady diet of most opera houses and symphonies throughout the world.  Exactly a year ago, North Carolina Symphony, played in the first half of the program Prelude to Act I, Lohengrin. The second half featured the memorable performance of virtuoso violinist, Itzhach Perlman playing Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 35, by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. As an aside, North Carolina Symphony had just played Carmina Burana on May 11 and 12. On May 17, there was a special program of classical music for the NCS patrons, and on May 18 and 19, the vocal music of Steve Lippia fed the souls of music connoisseurs. Raleigh has an extraordinarily rich cultural life.

Wagner’s writing and Teutonic operas tell us that he had a deep knowledge of history. His operas, especially Tristan and Isolde, and the “Ring Cycle” consisting of four operas, 18 hours, are full of Zoroastrian parables, Buddhist reference to “nothingness” before becoming “something” and the writings of Rumi, Shams Tabrizi, and Baba Taher Oryan. He loved Aryan Persians as much as he hated the Jews. He spoke of the Jews as inferior creatures preoccupied with usury, money changing, and nothing else. He made fun of Jewish cantorial music and ridiculed the religious tradition of the Jewish synagogue.

Delving into his personal life, one discovers that he was an illegitimate child of a Jew, Ludwig Geyer. He was born in the Jewish quarter of Leipzig, the ninth child of Carl Friedrich Wagner who died six months after Richard’s birth, following which Wagner’s mother began living with the actor and playwright Ludwig Geyer with whom she had a longstanding relationship. Ludwig was a friend of Richard’s late father. Richard almost certainly suspected that Geyer was his natural father. He and Ludwig whom he publicly called “Dad” shared a love of theater, opera and language. Around age 14, however, Richard changed his name from Richard Geyer back to Richard Wagner.

In his early life, Wagner was heavily influenced by Shakespeare and Goethe. He was determined to set the writings of these two illustrious authors into music. In 1826, at age 13, he started to take music lessons. By 1827, the family had moved back to Leipzig. Wagner’s first lessons in harmony were taken in 1828-1831. In January 1828 he first heard Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and then, in March, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony performed in the Gewandhaus. Beethoven became his inspiration, and Wagner wrote a piano transcription of the 9th Symphony. He was also greatly impressed by a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. From this period we have Wagner’s early piano sonatas and his first attempts at orchestral overtures. In 1829 he saw the dramatic soprano Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient on stage, and she became his ideal of the fusion of drama and music in opera. In his autobiography, Wagner wrote, “If I look back on my life as a whole, I can find no event that produced and left so profound an impression upon me.” He had an unsuccessful marriage to Cosima, and had disastrous relationships with other women including Minna Wagner.

In Wagner lies an enigma. He was a truly brilliant artist with gifts in music composition, writing, poetry, and deep knowledge of history who was pathologically intolerant of others, especially Jews. Yet he was the son of a Jew and had Jewish DNA. His profound anti-Semitic rant has given to millions of words of psychobabble attempting to explain that his hatred of Jews was deeply rooted in self-hatred. As a person, he had no shred of decency and no touch of sublime humanity. He broke up with his idol and mentor, philosopher Schopenhauer, because of Wagner’s extreme hatred of the Jews. Schopenhauer could not take Wagner’s extreme intolerance of the Jews. Personally, I take and enjoy Wagner’s rich and lasting contributions to the arts and literature, and merely ignore the rest of him.

On the local scene in Raleigh, for the opera lovers, North Carolina Opera is growing. It produces two or three operas a year. I am looking forward to the day we will have an opera house built on the proposed Dix Park. Then we can not only do the more lavish and demanding Wagner operas, but stage some modern operas the list of which is approaching 90. I have noticed and admired the Met’s willingness to add some of the modern operas such as Cyrano de Bergerac with Placido Domingo as Cyrano, Sondra Radvanovsky (Roxanne), and librettist Henry Cain. I have yet to see any opera in America  by Michael Tippett, Hans Verner Henze and Olivier Messiaen (I saw his Saint Francois D’Assie in Paris last year), and other composers.

Meantime, Happy 200th Birthday to Richard Wagner!

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On Verdi’s “Otello” and the Super Bowl

Monday Musings

Volume III, No. 5/108

by: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Maestro Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello and Super Bowl XLVII
Super Bowl has become an unofficial National Holiday. The following first appeared in The Fayetteville Observer, Sunday January 31, 1988, and since reprinted every year in various publications.  But first, a word about Verdi’s’ Otello: 

I:  Verdi’s Otello

Verdi-photo-Brogi

This year’s super bowl falls on February 3, two days before Verdi’s Opera, Otello, opened at Teatro Alla Scala, Milan, Italy, February 5, 1887. By the way, Shakespeare’s play is Othello, but Verdi’s opera is Otello. The opening of Otello was just as spectacular and hyped up as is the super bowl sporting event. Arturo Toscanini (March 25, 1867 – January 16, 1957, lived to be almost 90 years old and died on Mozart’s birthday) held the first chair cello in Maestro Verdi’s orchestra at the premiere of Otello. The opera was received with a tumultuous public endorsement. Verdi was not only a beloved composer and the quintessence of the 19th century Italian opera, but he was hailed as a hero capable of bringing various semi-independent political hegemonies under one government and one king. The political pundits promulgated Verdi as an acronym for Viva Emanuel Rei (Reign) D’Italia (Long live Victor Emanuel King of Italy). Yes, the war-torn Italy was united because of the work of a composer, the beloved Maestro Verdi.  At the conclusion of the opera, near midnight of February 5, 1887, there were thousands of people in the streets shouting Viva Verdi. Toscanini, the young gifted cellist, was very excited about the triumphant premiere of Otello. He wrote “I went home after midnight.  I was very excited.  I knelt at my mother’s bedside, and woke her up with a scream ‘Mama, Otello was a success.’  Maestro Verdi is a miracle maker.  Viva Maestro Verdi, Viva Verdi…”
That evening Verdi could not sleep, because throngs of people gathered outside of his window chanting Viva Verdi. Otello, just like Nabucco, debuted in 1842, was an unbelievable triumph.  We will devote several essays to Italian Operas in the months to come.

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II:  American Football Loses Something in Translation

A while back, my sports-minded, slim, trim, 67-year-old sister, from Iran was visiting us in America.  In her younger days in Iran, she had taught physical education and music. So, her interest in American sports was genuine. One day she asked me to explain American football to her. I tried.  We sat down on a Monday night to Cowboys/Bears game on television.

“The ball, why is the ball egg-shaped and not round? She asked.”
“I don’t know,” I said.

Then came the kickoff, the convergence of defense and offense, I could not quickly find an equivalent for “first and ten” in Farsi (the Iranian language) as I translated play by-play.  So I set out to say “You see, Khanum Baji-respected form of addressing an elder sister–, the offense, that is the team that has the ball, has four chances to gain ten yards…” by the time I had gotten this far, a Bear defense had intercepted Danny White’s pass with what the color commentator was colorfully and hyperthyroidically screaming on top of his lungs as “a spectacular, fantastic and unbelievable catch’n runback.”  Golly, I was getting behind my translating. The interceptor was tackled.

“Why these fellows beating on the guy who intercepted the ball?” she asked “Oh, they are just congratulating him!” I said. “I can’t believe it, look; they are hitting him on the head and pushing him around as hard as they can…” “Khanum Baji, please take my word for it. This is just a friendly celebration of their victory. There are somethings that you just have to take on faith…” I exhorted.  She was not satisfied. I could tell from her subtle frown.  By now, an injured Bear was being worked on, Frank Gifford guessed that he “must have had the wind knocked out of him,” as I translated faithfully. “What do you mean the wind knocked out of him?” She asked in disbelief, “The guy is half dead.  He is not moving.  He has been lying on the field for five minutes. I really don’t want to watch this violence…” “Okay, I said.” We started to move when the TV cameras panned Mike Ditka on the sideline.  He was spitting all over the place and maniacally pacing the sideline. “Why does that guy spit so much?” she asked pointing at Ditka. “I don’t know,” I replied. The next play was a Bear touchdown, We were ready to change channels, but my sister, hearing the thunderous applause asked me to explain to her what had happened. I did. “Why are these half-naked women doing this lewd dance after the ball carrier spiked the ball?” she asked.   What are those fluffy frilly things they are twirling?” she asked.  “Pom Poms” I said. “They add to the excitement.”  I added. I explained the function of the cheerleaders:  Cheerleading is a highly competitive field.  Cheerleaders are a national resource honored by Playboy, Penthouse, Presidents, Senators and Congressmen.” She interrupted me:  “There they go again, beating the guy who carried the ball and scored,” she observed, “They are celebrating again,” I said. “Will they arrest or penalize those who knocked out the other guy?” she asked.  “No, Khanum Baji, they are heroes, they get their pictures in the paper.” I said.  People love violence. My sister’s frown got a mite deeper.  “Tell me, is this a state supported game?” she asked. “No, Sis, It is private enterprise at work.” I explained. “You see, the players go on strike if they don’t get their way.  An average player makes around $250,000 for six months work.  Why, one fellow, Steve Young, whose contract called for $47 million,” I continued, my sister’s frown had definitely deepened, She seemed concerned and curious.  “What is the salary of high school or college teachers here?” she asked.  “In the range of $19,000 to $30,000 a year” I said. She was visibly upset.

“What is going on now?” she asked looking at Ditka with an expression of disdain and disbelief.  “I don’t know, “I replied. “You sure don’t know much, do you?” She said. I grinned, and we flipped to the concert in PBS-something that both she and I could understand and enjoy.

 *The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill. He is Emeritus, Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012)

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Giuseppi Verdi: The Prophet Who Brought Us the Opera

Monday Musings for Monday October 8, 2012

Volume II.  No. 36/88

Giuseppe Verdi

The Prophet Who Brought Us the Opera

By Assad Meymandi, Md, PhD, DLFAPA*

800px-Giuseppe_Verdi_signature.svg

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was born on October 10, 1813, the same year as Richard Wagner.  We dedicate today’s “Monday Musings” to Maestro Verdi and to the marvelous invention of a group of Italian literati/composer/musician/ scientist, the Florentine Camerata, that gave birth to the western opera.  The group met weekly in sessions lasting as long as 16 hours, pouring over Greek operas, combining words (libretto) with emotional impact of music which they christened “the opera” (see below). Before examining the life of Verdi, let us focus on the importance of opera.

Why Opera?

There are four powerful instruments used for introspection and research on self.  One can learn more about one’s self through psychoanalysis which is usually very expensive and time-consuming.  The other tools are studying history, theater and poetry.  The last but certainly not the least is understanding and studying opera.  Opera, a combination of words and music offers us the most comprehensive and potent introspectoscope.  Opera give the participant an opportunity to become aware of one’s unconscious in dynamic gradation.  Do we, as viewers possess at least some of the evil and sexual identity confusion that eclipses Iago and Othello (in opera Otello)?  Are we endowed with passion that made Don Jose kill Carmen?   Are we capable of transcendence that come with the Zoroastrian parables in Wagner’s Ring Cycles?  In order to get to know ourselves better, I believe opera should be an integral part of every citizen’s cultural and intellectual diet.  It is much less expensive than psychoanalysis, and while being intellectually stimulating, it is more enjoyable and entertaining.

 

History of Opera:

Opera is an Italian word.  It means work .  In the late 16th Century, a group of Florentine scholars decided to get together every week and study the music and writings of the ancient Greek.  They called themselves the Florentine Camerata.  It was very much like our modern-day book clubs.  Except that these people were very serious about their work.  The culmination of these studies and discussions was Jacobo Peri’s composition of Orpheo which was performed at 8:00 PM, October 6, 1600, at Pitti Palace in Florence.  Of course, in 1607, Claudio Monteverdi gave us his version of Orpheo.  It marks the beginning of Opera.   We have enjoyed 400 years of opera as result of the intense work of this group.

 

Types of Opera:

Italian opera dominated Europe throughout the 16th and early 17th centuries.  Around 1670s, French opera with its founder and inventor, Jean Baptist Lully (1632-1687) emerged.  Lully was an Italian orphan who immigrated to Paris at age 14.  He rose to become the court composer for the Sun King, Louis 14th, who reigned for 73 years.  Lully gave us the French Overture and its dotted rhythm brings on grandeur, pomposity and majesty meant for Louis 14th.  Other French composers followed: Jean-Philip Rameau, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Christoph Willibald Von Gluck, Giacomo Myerbeer, Bizet etc.  There are German, Russian, Chinese, and now many third world countries’ operas.  Also, there are lyric opera, grand opera, opera buffa and opera seria, just to name a few.

 

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi

Verdi was not a revolutionary composer as was Richard Wagner.  Verdi was a hard-working, steady, predictable, unemotional master who perfected his craft gradually, steadily, and constantly.  In 1842, with Nabucco, he began his climb to fame, and by the time he staged Aida in 1871, he had reached the height of fame and fortune.  People adored him.  They would line the streets and cheer him on whenever his carriage would pass.  Shouts of Viva Verdi would break out at the slightest hint of his presence.  People turned his name Verdi into a political code Viva Emanuel Re D’Italia (VERDI) for the return of the King Emanuel, the deposed King of Italy, to reunite the war-torn Italian peninsula.

Verdi was a sullen dark-complexioned, dour looking  young man with a face marred by scars of acne or possibly small pox.  His beginning was not illustrious.  He failed the entrance examination to La Scala in Milan.  His first two operas Oberto and Un Giomo Di Regno, were major failures.  It was during  his work on those two operas that he lost his wife and two children to infectious diseases.  His relationship with the Italian press was ugly and confrontational.  Yet, with persistence, determination and support of his father-in-law, he continued to work hard and ultimately become triumphant.  Staging Nabucco in 1842 marked his first artistic, social and political triumph.

Verdi wrote 29 operas including Aida and Falstaff which was his last opera staged February 9, 1893.  He then bought a large farm and spent the rest of his life as a very well to do farmer.  He opted to live with an opera singer, and gave no heed to the critiques who chastised him for his immoral life style,  He was above fray and told the press to mind their own business.  An aside: the late Maestro Arturo Toscanini, played first chair cello in Aida, December 24, 1871,  After the completion of the opera and the jubilant crowds on the street shouting Viva Verdi for literally hours, way past midnight, Toscanini went home screaming joyfully and calling his mother to get up, kneel and thank the Lord for Maestro Verdi and Aida

Verdi is the chosen child of God who was commissioned to bring to the inhabitants of this earth the beauty, the sanctity, and the remedial effectiveness of Opera.  As a psychiatrist, I work to get people cured of addiction.  But I don’t mind to encourage our readers to get addicted to the opera.  Opera is a gift, and addiction to the Opera is a blessing.  Verdi died on January 27, 1901.

*The writer is a Distinguished Life Fellow American Psychiatric Association, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill.  He is the Founding Editor and Editor in chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012)

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