Moment of Clarity

I went to the climate march in New York City last week. This was on Friday, September 20, connecting with a massive strike and protest happening all over the world on the same day. My friend Attila had just flown in from Portland, Oregon, and the sprawling scene all over downtown Manhattan was so packed it took us hours to find each other in the crowd.

It was an amazing day. We marched from Foley Square down Broadway past City Hall with a young, energetic, angry crowd — so young, in fact, that when we marched past Zuccotti Park I sensed that most people around me didn't know that this had been the historic site of Occupy Wall Street only eight years before. A whole lot of stuff went down at Zuccotti Park in 2011. Two blocks later we marched past Wall Street itself, and I thought about how we need to occupy it again, and this time refuse to leave.

Looking For My Voice

Marc Eliot Stein with some Brooklyn graffiti

I've been thinking about voice — about my own voice, and about the word 'voice'. I looked up quotes with the word 'voice' and immediately found a bunch that got me thinking. So many worthwhile quotes, in fact, that I stopped reading after I got to these four:

The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. — Neil Gaiman

A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together. — Margaret Atwood

Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning. — Maya Angelou

I learned patience, perseverance, and dedication. Now I really know myself, and I know my voice. It's a voice of pain and victory. — Anthony Hamilton

Orphic Mysteries and Dionysian Roots

Beneath the Parthenon, on the southern side of the most famous hill in Athens, Greece, there stands today the Theater of Dionysus. Two millennia ago a Dionysian festival gathered here each year at harvest time for a series of remarkable dramatic performances. The great tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and the great comedies of Aristophanes and Menander were first performed at this festival, in this theater, where these ruins stand today. We have the ecstatic God Dionysus to thank for Greek comedy and Greek tragedy. Today, as befits Dionysus's reputation for impulsive doomed flights, the theater is a gentle ruin.

It's exciting to imagine how it must have felt to attend the theater of Dionysus in its prime, at the premiere of an Aeschylus or Sophocles or Euripides work. Here's artist David Reinhold's illustration of what one may have seen:

Opera DJ

The second episode of "Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera" is out! This one tells the story of how I turned myself into an opera freak by forcing myself to listen to nothing but opera music — 100 selected arias in random order, eight hours a day every day while I worked for months — until osmosis took effect and I eventually started recognizing, differentiating and deeply enjoying the melodies. It was an odd experiment that succeeded beyond my own expectations. It resulted in my decision to start this podcast to explore the bountiful connections between literature, history, religion, politics, culture and opera. It's the first of what I hope will be several new Literary Kicks podcasts to come.

Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera - A New Podcast!

Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera
Episode 5
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Fidelio and Napoleon: Opera as #Resistance

Beethoven's politically charged "Fidelio" is an opera for today, with messages of resistance, defiance, #MeToo and prisoner awareness. It premiered during the Napoleonic Wars that brought revolutionary tumult all over Europe, and Ludwig van Beethoven was deeply involved in progressive revolutionary politics. We talk about the French Revolution, Tolstoy's "War and Peace", David Lang's "Prisoner of the State", Schroeder's toy piano and much more. The final episode of Season 1 of "Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera"!

Music: various early recordings of Beethoven's "Fidelio" found on Archive.org, a great resource for free music.

Episode 4
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Wotan and Brunnhilde: Two Software Guys from New York Went to the Entire Ring Cycle at the Met and Lived To Tell

Marc Eliot Stein and Bud Parr, two software developers and literary bloggers from New York City, sat through all 18.5 hours of Richard Wagner's "Ring des Nibuleng" cycle at the Metropolitan Opera this year, and lived to tell the tale. Actually, we were both very impressed. In our latest exploration of opera's often misunderstood literary side, we focus on the dramatic and mythical aspects of Wagner's masterpiece, and also talk about feral children, Fellini movies, #MeToo (Wagner has problems here), Johnny Cash, anti-semitism, the wonderful soprano Christine Goerke who kills it as Brunnhilde, red Mustangs and much more. Please enjoy this lively recap of four intense German operas with me and Bud. Litblog Coop represent!

Music: various early recordings of Wagner's Ring cycle found on Archive.org, a great resource for free music.

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Orpheus and Eurydice: From the Theater of Dionysus to the Renaissance to Gluck and Offenbach

Lisa Geraghty and Marc Eliot Stein talk about the invention of opera by Florentine scholars trying to recreate ancient Greek drama, and then go deep into Gluck's "Orfeo et Euridice", touching also upon the Charlie Daniels Band, Arcade Fire, Jacques Offenbach's "Orphee aux Enfers" and Rilke's poetry.

Music: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice by Munich Festival Orchestra conducted by Friedrich Haider featuring Vessalina Casarova. Offenbach's Orphee aux Enfers by Koninklijk Filharmonisch Orkest van Vlaanderen.

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Osmosis: How I Got Over My Lifelong Inability To Love And Understand Opera

How I holed up in an apartment and listened to nothing but opera for months until I started to love it. Featuring an interview with soprano Nicola Mills about her own unique journey to opera.

Music: Cosi Fan Tutte, La Traviata, Barbieri di Siviglia, Die Zauberflote featuring Guiseppe de Luca, Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavoratti, Rita Streich, Nicola Mills.

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Otello: Is Verdi's Shakespeare Better Than Shakespeare's?

Introducing the new podcast! We begin with a look at how Verdi transformed and illuminated Shakespeare's Othello, talk about the interplay between opera and literature from past centuries today, and enjoy Virginia Woolf's description of a visit to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.

Music: Otello by Giuseppe Verdi and Arrigo Boito, featuring Placido Domingo, Maria Callas, Kiri Te Kanawa, Piero Cappuccilli and Mirella Freni.

Please support Litkicks and "Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera" on Patreon! Your support will really make a difference, and you will also receive access to a special hour-long "Literary Opera Secret House Mix" - lots of music, just a little bit of talking at the beginning - that will feature several of my personal favorite musical opera moments.

Satori in Brooklyn: Our Shared Spaces

A few days ago a friend told me she was worried about my rage. "You seem upset a lot," she said.

Another friend told me the same thing after seeing my photos of a protest march. This friend says I need to "relax" about Donald Trump, Mike Pence, stolen seats on the US Supreme Court, the global resurgence of white nationalism and fascism, atrocities in Yemen and Gaza, abuse of immigrants and refugees, corrupt hyper-capitalism, environmental ruin. I'm letting it get to me, he says.

I'm glad my friends are concerned about my state of mind. But I'm having a hard time these days figuring out how to respond to people who worry about my level of rage, because I don't think the rage I'm expressing is my rage at all.

This is the world's rage. I hear it loud and clear all around me — here in New York City, and all over America and all over the world. I am a writer, and I am a political activist, and so I write about this rage and go to protests. Maybe some of my friends are confused about what it is that writers and activists do ... because telling either a writer or an activist not to express rage in 2018 is like telling a baseball player not to swing at a fastball. Huh? It's our job. This is what we were put on this earth to do.

When I write about the major problems around the world in 2018, I'm not thinking about my own personal feelings at all. Rather, I'm trying to dwell within a shared space, a place of community. But these shared, social spaces themselves have shriveled and sickened as a result of the political fiascos of the last couple of decades. Confusion, cynicism, paranoia and hopelessness have especially come to define the public mood in the United States, which was still reeling from the shock of the Al Qaeda attacks in 2001 and the disaster of Bush's Iraq War of 2003 when the fiscal crash of 2007/2008 happened, hurtling us eventually towards the racist kakistocracy of Donald Trump. Do we ever stop to mourn the common trust that has been lost within the various societies that enrich and sustain us? I don't think we do. It's hard to mourn and fight at the same time. Instead, we channel this unconscious sense of loss into feelings of anger, dislike, refusal, disgust.

Reflections

I'm in a reflective mood lately. Looking within, through a glass darkly and all that. That's my excuse for the fact that it's March 2018 and this is my first post of the year.

I also have another excuse: I've been working on a really good Litkicks article about opera. If you follow my Instagram (and I wish you would, because I'm really into expressing myself with images lately) you know that I've taken up regular attendance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City for the past couple of years. This followed a couple of other developments in my life: first, I've managed to transform myself from someone who has to slog to work in an office every day into a work-from-home arrangement, which makes me very happy. I now spend most of my daylight hours coding in a solitary room, which means I get to play whatever music I want in the background while I work. I've discovered that opera is the perfect background music for coding. It's dramatic and dynamic and continuous, which keeps me awake and engaged. But it's also in a language I don't speak, so the words can't interrupt my thinking as they would if I knew what the singers were singing about.

This is why I've been feeding Mozart and Rossini and Bellini and Donizetti and Verdi and Wagner and Puccini and Strauss into my brain at an advanced pace lately. I also happen to be currently crashing in upper Manhattan, with the Met at Lincoln Center just a pleasant walk away. This is why opera has suddenly begun rocking my world. I'm almost ready to publish a really exciting article for this site about the literary, cultural and historical significance of opera. But that article is not ready yet. This Litkicks post is not that Litkicks post, but I have a few other things to share today ...