Oct. 23 & 24: Elections, Humanity, and Cartoons

By James David Jacobs

Well, it's election time again. It's not just getting ugly; it already IS ugly. We've formed our tribe with the people who agree with our position, and we're so certain of our rightness that we consign all those outside our political tribe to some species several levels below human. As we go to our polls to vote, I wonder if we really appreciate our democracy enough. As powerless as we feel, our vote literally affects the lives of people throughout the world. Used wisely, democracy ensures that everyone is treated fairly; that, instead of packing a pistol for our tribe at the expense of the rest of humanity, we can see a fellow in distress and say "Wer du auch seist, ich will dich retten...ich loese deine Ketten, ich will, du Armer, dich befrein." ("Whoever you are, I'll save you...I'll loose your chains, poor man, and set you free.")

Perhaps the most radical line in any opera ever written, Leonore has put on a disguise and placed herself in great danger in order to save her husband Florestan; as it happens, that's who that "poor man" turns out to be, but at that moment she doesn't know that. At that moment, she has decided that seeking justice is about more than family values - that it is not just her duty to get her husband back, it is her duty to make sure no man suffers injustice as long as she can do something about it. The subtitle of the original Bouilly play the libretto is based on may be "L'Amour conjugal" but this is one of the few operas which is about more than the triumph of married love.

This weekend Opera Boston is performing this opera, Beethoven's Fidelio, at the Cutler Majestic Theatre this weekend. In honor of this great opera we will be playing all four of the overtures Beethoven wrote for this opera in its various incarnations, including the three he wrote for the opera with its original (and Beethoven's preferred) title, Leonore. It says a lot about Beehtoven's essentially symphonic mindset that he wrote a new overture for every new revision; Rossini, in contrast, wrote one overture that he used for four different operas. We'll hear the Fidelio Overture and Leonore Overture no. 3 on Saturday morning, and Leonore Overtures no. 1 & 2 on Sunday morning.

Speaking of universal humanity, Sunday is United Nations Day, which will celebrate the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Charter of the United Nations in 1945. While the Beethoven overtures seem like appropriate music for the occasion, we will also listen to selections by Verdi and Sibelius performed by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an extraordinary group of young Arab, Israeli and European musicians, all setting aside their tribal differences to make beautiful music together.

One musician associated with the United Nations from its inception is the great cellist Pablo Casals. On Sunday we'll be listening to his magnificent 1937 recording of the Dvorak Concerto with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by George Szell.

Other highlights of this weekend's morning programming: Saturday we'll begin and end with works by the American composer Ned Rorem in honor of his 87th birthday; Sunday, we'll hear the pioneering fortepianist Malcolm Bilson playing Schubert's transcendent A Major sonata in honor of Bilson's 75th birthday; and Saturday will include some selections familiar from their use in Warner Bros. cartoons in honor of the 99.5 All Classical Cartoon Festival at Symphony Hall that day. I'll be running over there after my show to spend the afternoon having fun with thousands of children -- and I hope you'll be one of them!

Perhaps it'll be educational, too: on Saturday at Symphony Hall, it'll be completely appropriate to act like a child. Unlike, say, the polling booth, or the United Nations, or Capitol Hill....sigh.

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