Friday, May 25, 2007

Orfeo ed Euridice... or... I've Just Gone Through Hell for This Chick and She Still Won't Do What I Tell Her!

Proving once again that there's nothing new under the Sun, the Metropolitan Opera wound down its 2006/2007 season with a spectacular production of Christoph Willibald Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Orpheus myth, here's a quick synopsis:

Orfeo is mourning the death of his young wife, Euridice. But he sends everyone away because his grief is so overwhelming even their sincere and heartfelt support sinks him deeper into despair.

Then along comes Cupid, yeah Cupid, suspended from a wire no less, who tells him that all he has to do is follow his beloved's spirit into the underworld and bring her back.

But, she orders, he cannot look at her, or tell her why he can't look at her, until they're back home or she will die. And this time, for keepsies.

Yada, yada, yada... he descends into Hell, gets past the Furies, finds his wife and they start home.

"But why won't you look at me?," she asks, "Am I no longer beautiful?"

"Just shut up and follow me." implores Orfeo, but she's relentless.

"Is it because this dress makes me look fat?"

"Have you found someone else? It's that little tart from Thessalonika, isn't it?"

At this point the Missus turned to me and said "What a wimp. Why doesn't he just grab her by the scruff of the neck, tell to STFU and drag her out of there?"

Why not indeed? But this is an opera.

Finally, when he can't take her nagging anymore, he turns and looks her straight in the eyes and she promptly drops dead... again.

At that point poor Orfeo collapses to his knees and wails: "Che faro senza Euridice" (what shall I do without Euridice). Well lets see... for starters I'll play golf, go fishing and drink as much beer as I want anytime I want.

But no.

All Orfeo has to do is threaten suicide and Cupid returns to snatch the dagger from his hand. Touched by his devotion Cupid brings Euridice back to life and she immediately starts nagging him to finish mowing the lawn. What oh what shall I do without Euridice? What oh what shall any of us do?

Well, they live happily every after, have five kids and Orfeo gets a job playing in the house band at Euridice's father's catering hall. They are Greek, after all.

And we can only speculate as to how Orfeo's life would have turned out if he had passed on Cupid's "descend into Hell" offer and just looked around for a younger woman. After a respectable mourning period, of course.

But this is pure fiction. For the happily married among us, thankfully, Orfeo's tragedy is a prospect that few of us (gentlemen) will have to confront. All you have to do is glance at the obituary page or take a walk past your local assisted living center to recognize that we're not going to outlive our wives. It brings back memories of the old Alan King routine, "Survived by his wife." In fact, I'm sure that if we followed the Orpheus legend to its conclusion we'd find Euridice sitting in a beach chair in Boca Raton cashing Orfeo's pension checks from the Amalgamated Greek Lyre Players Union.

Face it, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

So when you're tempted to blurt out, "Why can't you do what I tell for once?", understand that this is a male/female dynamic that's been going on since there have been males and females. Just swallow those words before they jump out and get you into trouble because the odds that she'll do what you say are roughly equivalent to the chances that Alex Rodriguez will hit a bases-loaded homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth of the seventh game of the World Series while still wearing a Yankee uniform.

It ain't happenin'.

Next week: Wotan, the King of the Gods, chides his teenage daughter Brunnhilde for her disobediance. "You're grounded, young lady!", he shouts. Then he places her on a rock surrounded by a ring of fire for all eternity. Would that it were...


Claude Scales said...

Remarkable! My wife and I saw Orfeo a week ago. We loved the music, even if the plot (like most mythic tales) was thoroughly bizarre.

My old friend Nick Tosches, in his book Country - the twisted roots of rock 'n' roll (Da Capo, 1996) recalls a 1976 interview with the late rockabilly artist Warren Smith, in which he asked Smith how he came by the song "Black Jack David", which was the "B" side of Smith's 1956 Sun Records release, "Ubangi Stomp". Smith answered, "I wrote it."

Nick's next paragraph begins: "Cut to Athens, fourth century B.C." He then describes the earliest known account of the Orpheus legend (essentially the plot of Gluck's opera, minus the happy ending) in Plato's Symposium. Nick then follows its development to Rome, via Vergil's Georgics, Ovid's Metamorphoses and Boethius's De Consolatione Philosophiae. King Alfred translated Boethius to ninth century English, from which the Orpheus story got taken up, first by a Welshman named Walter Map, and then, having entered Celt-dom, into Ireland, where it got interwoven with an Irish legend of similar structure. From this, it later evolved into a ballad involving a gypsy named Johnny Faa, who lateer became Black Jack Davy. the tale also changed from a widower stealing his wife from hell to a wanderer stealing a nobleman's wife. In this form, Scots-Irish emigrants brought it to Appalachia, and later to Texas, where it was recorded by T. Texas Tyler in 1939 (who, like Smith, claimed authorship and copyrighted the lyrics).

In response to Nick's question, Warren Smith allowed as follows:

"Well, long. long time ago there was one called 'Black Jack David'. I guess I kinda got the idea from it, but I changed it around altogether. ... I was kinda half-way crazy about it, y'know, but they kinda half-way banned it there in Memphis. I guess it was, uh, it was kinda like this man comin' through there while another man was gone from home and stole his wife, y'know?"

aliciak said...

Despite his best efforts, Mr. Martini has no more chance of convincing us he is master of all he surveys than that other dick, A-Rod, will hit a clutch, series-winning homerun. Like Charlie the Tuna, Martini hopes his cultural and sports alliterations will keep his persistent anti-female message from leaving a bad taste. And, like Charlie the T., this wimp is begging to be caught.

Joseph Martini said...

Dear aliciak,


Why do husbands die before their wives?

First correct answer wins a nickel.