On Sunday the LUC and I went to our first opera of the season. I love saying "the season", like I'm the sort of person who has seasons. For me there's two seasons: slick tire zippy bicycle for dry pavement and studded knobby tire mountain bike for snow and ice. And for the record: I ride a bike year round because I choose not to own a car. But I digress.
The opera we saw was a special performance. It was The Emperor of Atlantis by composer Viktor Ullmann and librettist Petr Kien. It was preceded by a play about the creation of the work. In short, the opera was composed in the Therisienstadt Jewish ghetto during world war two. Composed in the kind of desperate squalor that we in the west today can only imagine. The authors didn't survive, they ended up in Auschwitz. On the stage floor and back wall the show's designers had placed a list of all the ghetto suicides from the time period of the play. For some, the conditions they were forced to endure were too much and yet for others those conditions produced art.
The opera is a satire of the nazi regime. No big surprise there, the surprise comes in that they seemed to have expected to actually stage it. It didn't happen although no one knows if the Jewish council of elders in the ghetto stopped it out of fear or if the nazis found out first. Having seen the opera I have to say that showing it where the guards could see would have been foolish. Possibly fatal.
Their act of defiance wouldn't have changed much even if they'd been allowed to stage it. It wouldn't played anywhere outside that ghetto, and certainly wouldn't have stopped the brutalities of the nazi regime. But it was an act worthy remembrance.* They not only defied their captors through satire but the creation of the opera was a profound act of defiance in and of itself. In a world were destruction reigned they created.
I have these illusions about myself. I say "illusions" not because they're false but because they haven't been tested. I like to think that I'd be one of those who would create despite the dangers. I have no evidence of this, it's just something I like to believe about myself. Indeed, I let little things like a bad mood or indigestion stop me from even practicing guitar let alone composing.
In the defense of this belief I offer my willingness to step up when needed. A few years back I was sitting in my apartment (in the pre-LUC dark ages) watching tv when I heard a woman screaming. I didn't live in a very good neighbourhood, screaming women weren't that unusual. Most of the time it was someone having a fight with a boyfriend/husband/whatever, but this was different. I hesitated for a couple of minutes then grabbed my coat and went out to see what was going on. I was too late. Halfway up the stairs there was a guy cornered by two others and the screaming woman was naked in the bushes. It turned out that the guy was the one the press were calling the river valley rapist. He ended up getting convicted.
I did the right thing. I went to help, but waited too long to do any good. That still bothers me. If I'd been the only one to respond it would have been too late. I might have caught the guy but not before he'd raped again. The distress I still feel lets me believe that in the situation Ullmann and Kien faced, I might have done as they did.
Illusion? Perhaps, but one I can live with.
* The shows producers tried have the opening night on the anniversary of Kristallnacht but didn't manage it. They also tried for remembrance Day but still weren't ready.
Spell check is insisting that I capitalize nazi and tv. I think not!