A night at the opera
I’ve just returned from a performance of Paul Hindemith’s “Mathis der Maler” (I think it would be Mathias the Painter,” in English). Wow! What an amazing event. About half way through I asked myself this question – “Why would an almost sell-out crowd of Europeans turn out on a cold snowy night to hear a 20th century (1935) German opera about a 16th century painter?” Well, I couldn’t come up with the answer, but I did think a lot about why I was liking it so much.
This kind of opera lets you live vicariously through the singers for a few hours (4 1/2 to be exact). It allows ordinary life to be accompanied by a full, live orchestra. It allows you to stand tall, stretch out your arm and sing out at the top of your lungs about the things in life that really matter: life-death, good-evil, peace-war, justice-exploitation, etc, etc. It allows you to be a better person than you really are, more courageous than you really are, more willing to sacrifice your own life, to do what is right and good and honorable. In short, it lets you live for a little while in a another world that breaks through the monotony of the everyday; where the stuff of life that really matter, well, really matters.
I was also deeply touched by one of the main messages of this work of art – near the end, after living though self-sacrifice, loss of love, as well as a near death experience, a voice of the Apostle Paul tells our hero Mathais the painter to “VA et CRÉER” (go and create) and that the works he produces are not just for his benefactor but are an offering to God. What a beautiful thing for an artist to hear!
Another reason why I enjoyed this opera so much, is that the symphony that Hindemith made from this opera has been one of my favorites for the past few decades. I’m grateful for my composition prof Claude Bass for turning me on to the craftsmanship of Paul Hindemith’s neo-classicism back in the early 80s.
If you have the time give the symphony a listen…
(my favorite part is the brass chorale ending of the 3rd movement, which in the opera is used as a huge Alelluia)