Anna Bolena — tragically interrupted

Anna Bolena wrapped her long hair in one hand, lifted it above her shoulder, arm stretched, and walked decisively a few steps before an abrupt stop, swinging her black tail frontwards in an arch over her head where it hung before her forehead, as she took a drastic bow that exposed her neck to the armored henchman, and the audience erupted with cheers and applause.

Anna Netrebko, as Anna Boleyn, in the opera “Anna Bolena”, by Gaetano Donizetti / Metropolitan Opera, David McVicar production, Marco Armiliato conducting, October 15 2011.

Seconds later she appeared before the curtains, still in her intense moment but giving the audience a gentle, somewhat insecure smile, and yet another bow, as the audience raised their cheering and clapping volume. 

Three hours she sang and struggled, masterfully, as if to symbolize the three years Anna Boleyn suffered in the 1530s before her beheading by a single stroke on the 19th of May of 1936. As second wife of Henry VIII, she had suffered in being unable to bare him a son; she was burdened, torn as Queen between duty and conscience; troubled by learning of her lady-in-waiting friend Elisabeth being her romantic rival, while compassionately forgiving her; heartbroken seeing her first husband-to-be, and her brother, both being condemned to death; and while on the pathway leading to her executioner, maddened by already hearing the cheering for the crowning of Elisabeth as the new queen of England.

No soul, no flesh, no primal animal, no noble human is able to digest and display such anguish realistically, and become a glorious diva showered with praise seconds later. It is precisely here where show and drama diverge.

“Nettes Konzert!”, commented a middle-aged man to his wife, after we all finished experiencing Paco de Lucía in Stuttgart in the 1990s. “Nice concert”, was his exclamation, as we all marched slowly out of the concert hall, and I was overwhelmed by a gentle rage.

Flamenco is the pulsating heart and boiling blood of the Gypsies of Spain, slamming feet and pelvis skillfully onto the soil, gesticulating with hands and face that passion is the only love, the only peace, the only reason for everything known as life. Musically and physically, it lives through aggressive fingers on acoustic guitar strings, in the voice of the relentless throat, like the brass of a trumpet, and it is here where the dancer constantly turns on his axis like an energized Sufi dervish without his sikke, causing the hair to fly freely, dispersing a stream of sweat over the audience. Nothing here is nice — nothing less than an orgasm, for the passive listener and for the musician alike.

The moments at that performance shook my pelvis, pressed my cheeks, and tears were near. How can any mind succumb to “nice” through any mouth, any more than cheering a beheading as a great show?

As concert goer and performing artist, I am well aware of the intended appreciation for the fine arts in the applause following an impressive performance. Yet, whenever I am touched by a film, I cannot stand and leave with indifference during the scrolling credits; each time I am deeply moved by a music performance, I do not wish to shake it off. The mind, still in awe, ears still digesting, body and soul in need to dwell in reflection, I simply do not wish to interrupt what transcends at the conclusion of profoundly moving performances.

Three individual wonders come together at the conclusion of a quality performance:

- the deliverance

- the bridge between the transcendental state, and the contemporaneous reality

- the need to be thankful for the journey, while digesting it fresh

All are independent occurrences but the digestive process is a uniquely intricate one, and I remain suspicious and bewildered about the need for the compulsive immediacy of praise and compensation.

Applause and praise seem to be a range of colors and shades in substance. But, are they more than mere interference? There is a point where show and drama respectfully go their own ways. An artistic performance of quality is always an epic quest — moving, beautiful. They are spiritual and challenging expressions, meant to beautify and question, enabling reflections to mind and soul looking to embark in transcendental joys.

Herewith, though, mine is no protest. It is the honest need to question the nature of the interference.

(This is a revised and expanded version of an earlier post, and replaces the same)

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