Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Hemispheric Premiere of Three-Hundred-Year-Old Opera

Yes, friends, there are times when I wish I lived nearer New York or some major city. When I reflect that I've never seen the musical of The Scarlet Pimpernel be performed even though I loved it from the day the concept album was released, I feel a tad bit of cultural deprivation. When I read about folks' trips to the Birthday Weekend for Sherlock Holmes fans and how they go to more plays in a few days' span than I attend in a year, well, there's a definite touch of envy. But then I reflect that if I lived there I wouldn't be able to afford an apartment on my own, much less going out. I look around me at the wonderful events and artists we do have. And I realize there's no way I'd've been able to afford or get into the event I attended yesterday if it had occurred in New York City instead of Covington, Kentucky's beautiful Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.

Yesterday, you see, was the first time in this hemisphere that Charpentier's La Descente d'Orphee aux Enfers has been staged, courtesy of the Catacoustic Consort. It was my first time to get to see any baroque opera, and I have to say that it was a revelation to me. As a work of music and theater, this opera clearly should not have been so neglected. The same can be said of Charpentier. (And the whole thing only cost me twenty bucks.)

I suppose I should first mention the venue. Covington is of course right across the river from Cincinnati. It used to have a great deal more money passing through it from the Ohio River shipping trade. The Cathedral dates from back then. It seems to have a great deal of German influence, stonecarving and woodcarving; but then, Cincinnati and Covington used to be full of German immigrants. The result is a relatively small but tall Gothic church with the full complement of stained glass galore: clerestory, rose window, curvy bit of nave, etc. The interesting thing was that, besides the life of Jesus and a huge complement of saints, there were some amazingly didactic church history windows. There's a huge one on "The Council of Ephesus", surrounded by Marian theologian-saints, and a tiny one under the huge pipe organ dedicated to "Pius X Reforms Church Music". There are stations of the cross in mosaic which, thanks to some trick of perspective and mosaic-color, look like windows onto Jerusalem when approached from the side. There was a huge plain wooden crucifix hanging to the rear of the central altar area, and a gorgeous triptych painting of a Mass and Melchizedek with Christ in the center panel in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. (There was also a huge font in the middle of the main aisle just when you entered the church, with one of those blessed-oil curio cabinets and the now-standard pond. I don't think it's all that dignified to see pennies at the bottom of said ponds, but what did they think people would do? Fountain equals pennies, folks.) In short, it was an amazing place, and the acoustics were wonderful. I would really like to hear Mass there.

I don't think I've ever attended a secular concert in a Catholic church before, so I immediately faced a dilemma: genuflect or not? Nobody else was genuflecting and I didn't see a tabernacle (it was over in that chapel, of course), so I decided on "not". (I'm sure the good parishioners of St. Blog's will correct me on this point if I was wrong.) The singers and music stands were set up on the dais in front of the central altar. The musicians' chairs were on the floor at the foot of the dais. This meant that unfortunately I couldn't see much of the musicians, as I was a little too far back and too far to the center to get a good angle on them. But I had interesting pewmates. The women next to me were talking about weddings (though I thought their suggestion that all children be banned from them a bit harsh!). The women behind me were a music student and her mother, who spoke only Spanish. The man in front of me was wearing his best ruffed black shirt, though I never got a chance to ask if he did Renaissance faires, SCA, or just liked the post-Medieval grace of retro clothing. It was a good-sized crowd (enough to fill one arm of the church). We waited, watching things get set up and waiting for the program to begin.

More here later. Gotta go.


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