I went to the opera, “Hansel & Gretel”. At the end of Act One I couldn’t take it anymore. I left before intermission was over and walked out into the night, relieved I could breathe cool, fresh air again. Hansel & Gretel got to me, and kept me in a spin for days. What an awful story, so many layers, none of them light.
Make no mistake, there are worse stories and darker characters in fairy tales, operas and theatre. But this production of such an awful Grimm tale, set as if in a suburban apartment complex, exposed too much, too close to home, too much foreshadowing.
As the long final scene of Act One unfolded, children were led onto a gradually darkening stage. No voices were raised, only symphonic music. Eventually as the orchestra played, the children took up flashlights and turned them to the audience, creating the stunning effect of a night sky. For me though, it was chilling and anxious, this dark constellation contained indoors. I felt trapped in my seat as the stage turned from deep blue to black, with only these lights facing the audience, facing me. I was confronted immediately by the force of this disturbing projection. An audience neighbour was asleep, another yawning. Yet I was aghast.
I felt as if the stage had been taken over by the spirits of children, not just the cute actors behind the scrim. These seemed to me to be tall and powerful beings, unseen, anonymous, behind the darkness. Pointing their light, sending a message. In many ways so much more mature than any of us could know. They held us all accountable, all responsible, all forewarned. I felt the threat to all children everywhere and the urgent call from them to us, to me. I have been shaken by their presence and seriousness, their risk to appear. I can promise them I have been touched, and shall respond.
Since then, Hansel & Gretel, the characters, references to the story, music from the opera, familial memories, my own sub-conscious, and many synchronicities of various kinds have traversed through my personal time and space, all to keep this frightening moment alive, this end of Act One – this moment before a global emergency.
Here’s the thing – I have never walked out of a show. The decision to attend this opera was made late in the day. It was the final performance of a two-week run. I assumed it would be light, less complex than most, a modern production of an old children’s tale. As I waited in the grand hall before heading to my seat in the top balcony, I saw many young people file in to the audience. I wonder if any of them were “in on it” and saw what I saw or if they had a more sophisticated musical perspective. The truth is that as this warning leapt out from a stage, a pandemic was reaching to every corner of the world.
You never know when inspiration will hit, or when a message will be delivered, or when a last minute trip to the opera cracks you wide open. Act Two awaits. The healing begins.