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The Daily Sam: The Ride of the Valkyries

This past Saturday night Kathi and I went and saw Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) at the San Francisco Opera. Produced by Stephen Spielberg and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the cast of this all-star production of the Wagnerian classic includes Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao, Bombo, Mayor Gavin Newsom, and special guest Glenn Beck as The Shark.

No wait, that was Jaws. And Marlon Brando can’t sing.

The San Francisco production of The Valkyrie was stunning. For one thing, I really enjoyed it—which is saying something, since this is a four and one half hour show and I am not an opera buff. When I see an opera my mind keeps referencing the Bugs Bunny cartoons and movies though which I was first exposed to the music. Someday I will become a more cultured man.

The San Francisco Opera’s sets for Die Walküre were amazing and the performers were fabulous. I think the opera itself could use some editing—the first set, in particular, was overlong—but who’s going to edit Wagner? It’s the same problem we have with Moby Dick—who’s going to edit a great classic? Although you could argue the Hemingway did in The Old Man and the Sea and Spielberg did in Jaws.

This great Wagnerian opera is, in short, about the incestuous twins Siegmund and Sieglinde, who become lovers and are, oddly, the heroes of this opera. It is also about the God Wotan, who is their father—he’s pretty much everyone’s father in this show—who sees to it that his son Siegmund is killed and then condemns his beloved daughter Brünnhilde to be a mortal woman as punishment for aiding her half-brother Siegmund, which is what Wotan wants her to do in his heart but is done in defiance of his direct order, and—well, really it is all too much to explain. You had to be there.

All this incest, intrigue, and murder made my own sins and foibles seem paltry by comparison. I found myself identifying with Siegmund, only in a more Presbyterian manner. I can’t say I really drew any lesson from the opera, except that it’s better to find a good family therapist and talk things over before everything gets out of hand and turns into a global conflagration. Words to live by.

We attended Die Walküre with our friends Amy Tan and Lou DeMattei, supporters of the San Francisco Opera and members of its Medallion Society. In 2008 the San Francisco Opera held the world-premier of an opera based on Amy’s novel The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Sitting with Amy, Lou, and Kathi, I began to dream about an opera based on my book How to Play the Harmonica: and Other Life Lessons. It would have everything Wagner has, minus the incest, and it would have something Wagner never dreamed of including in his little production—the harmonica. And the lessons are a lot clearer.

Comments
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This is not to play down your

epoch-making manual, Sam, but perhaps you're missing a trick. Wouldn't it be great to stage an opera based on Rock Bottom Remainders, something along the lines of The Rocky Horror Show?

It would be an opportunity to compare the fiendish publishing industry with what's happened in the music world and how authors who read Write That Book Already came good against impossible odds!

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I can reference almost

I can reference almost ANYTHING to Bugs Bunny. But nothing beats his performance of The Barber of Seville. :)

They say the sign of a truly cultured person is someone who can hear the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger. If that is the case, I'm a true Barbarian. Oh well...like they say, if you've got it, flaunt it. :)

Eric the Barbarian

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Opera

Eric, I also think of Bugs Bunny in the Barber of Seville when I think of great operas. There is a commercial that runs here in the Charlotte, NC area approximately every 3 minutes for a settlement company. The commerical is done as an opera and the first line is, " If you have a long term settlement and you need cash now. Call J.G. Wentworth! 877-Cashnow!" I remember the words because that stupid song occasionally gets painfully stuck in my brain. I'll be at the grocery store trying to remember why I'm there and the only thing my brain is thinking is, "You need cash now! Call J. G. Wentworth, etc." I sincerely hate that commercial but it has done it's job. If I ever get a long term settlement and need cash now they will be the first people I will call. A friend of mine, who is an opera singer, hates it for a different reason. She says it makes fun of the true art that is opera. I agree with her while thinking, "877 Cashnow!" Maybe if I went to a real opera I would feel differently.