Monday, February 10, 2014

Loving that which is beautiful

Deciding to "resuscitate" my blog, as a dear friend suggested in 2011 (!), I found this draft, written years ago.  It is a curious synchronicity to find it, as I saw Rusalka two days ago on one of the Met's movie theater simulcasts.  I still believe what I said that day several years ago.  

Is it all right to love someone just (or mostly) because he/she is associated with beauty? Or maybe just because he/she is beautiful? These questions were running through my mind the other day as I pulled weeds in brilliant May sunshine and heard in my mind Renee Fleming's voice singing "O silver moon' from Dvorak's Rusalka.

I remember a parking lot moment when I could not move from my car until the Dvorak aria ended, and a trip on winding roads from Troy, NY, into the Berkshires attended by "Mariettas Lied" from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt, over and over and over. I remember seeing her spread her arms wide to the audience in Buffalo a few years ago, after a concert of such beauty that I kept thinking how glad I was to be alive, and how lucky I was to be able to be there. "I love her" was the spirit, if not the actual words, of all those moments. (Right now, I imagine it in Emma Thompson's voice in Love, Actually, as her character recalls to her husband the importance in her life of Joni Mitchell.) I don't even know Renee Fleming; does it make any sense to call this love?

Yes, I think so, but perhaps it is not really love for the person, nor even, exactly, for the image the person has created in public life. Murmuring in my mind are words written by the poet Keats. In a letter written not long before his death, he says, "I have loved the principle of beauty in all things." Perhaps it is just the "principle of beauty" that we love when we love those who produce beautiful music. Perhaps. But it feels personal. What I feel is that I love Fleming for her gift (though I admit that if she were a cold, humorless person, or a truly ugly one, there might not be so much love there).

And when you think about it, that is not very fair, if a gift is really fundamentally a gift, not an achievement. Should we love people for something with which they were gifted from birth, for which they are ultimately not really responsible? (Let us leave aside for the moment the years of work Fleming has given in her love for the "principle of beauty" in music: all of it would have come to naught had she not had a beautiful voice.)

I have felt the same love of the beautiful in the case of one or two very lovely women with whom I have had the good luck to be friends. I cared about their characters, wouldn't have cared about their beauty if they hadn't been interesting and pleasant to be with, but how I loved to look at them! And the love extends to a very select company of those I have never even known: I love Ingrid Bergman, for example.

It's there: it's a genuine feeling. If it is mixed up, okay, it's mixed up. But somehow it feels very close to a deep impulse I think all of us feel from time to time, the impulse toward praise. What I mean when I say that is not at all clear to me: it's not exactly synonymous with "praise God," though that is how it is expressed in many formal utterances and songs. Why shouldn't we rejoice in beauty? Why shouldn't love spring from us as an answer to it? That is, after all, an answer in kind.

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