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Stars and Laughter: An Open-Air Opera

October 2, 2019 by

Back in August my wife and I were privileged to see our first opera, a classic: The Elixir of Love by Gaetano Donizetti. Set in a slightly different time and place than the original – an African village instead of an Italian one – it gained extra power and verve from the cultural twist. I was surprised by its humor and depth. It was neither frivolous nor heavy, but well stoked with values that were subtly brought to the audience.

The audience of about one thousand was mostly exposed to the open sky, where a recent thunderstorm crackled in the distance. Stars slowly came out, as if to bless this special offering, and my wife and I enjoyed the good fortune of sitting behind an opera expert who, assisted by a bottle of wine, roared with laughter at all the right places (and a few more).

Festival of the VoiceFestival of the Voice, Photo by Bernard Handzel

Like our friend William Shakespeare and other great artists, Donizetti offers us the gift of laughing at our troubles: yes, all of them. Dare to love, he says; dare to be real. This opera is pretty much autobiographical, since a compassionate patroness made Donizetti’s career possible by paying his way out of the Austrian army (the opera’s young hero, “dying” of unrequited love, is offered sufficient funds to escape the torment of fighting for the imperial Austrian empire by none other than the object of his affections). Donizetti’s gratefulness for life in general flows like a rowdy mountain stream throughout, rambunctious and irrepressible – something we all can imbibe, whether or not we consider ourselves “musical.”

A lot of people might say “I’m not into culture, let alone opera.” But if we don’t embrace healthy culture and share it with others, we are headed for a sick culture – a culture of confusion and violence, a death culture. Donizetti composed this opera nearly two hundred years ago, and it’s not going to go away anytime soon. What an opportunity to learn from the past and enjoy it!

Mind you, if generous friends hadn’t paid for our tickets we would have missed out, perhaps reserving our first opera for our next life. (They do have operas in heaven.)


About the author

Simon Mercer

Simon Mercer

Simon Mercer is a free-thinking Anabaptist, would-be poet who lives at the Maple Ridge Bruderhof.

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