Love, Wagner, De Sade and Norman

Love, Wagner, De Sade and Norman
Image by Gerald Oskoboiny via Flickr Creative Commons

By Alfonso Hernandez

Marie Henri Beyle/Stendhal (1783–1825) in his work De l’Amour (On Love) presents four kinds of love: passionate, amour-passion (love-passion), self-evident or well-mannered and love based on vanity and possession. He says that love is an elusive emotion where feelings of passion result in an energy without apparent cause, as well as reverie, lucidity and awareness of the self.

The Metropolitan Opera of New York recently broadcast two operas where one can observe other forms of love. Francesca da Rimini by Riccardo Zandonai is directed by Marco Amiliato and sung marvelously by Eva-Maria Westbroek as Francesca, Marcello Giordani as Paolo, Robert Brubaker as Malatestino and Mark Delavan as Gianciotto.

The set was visually a masterpiece with medieval characteristics and costumes featuring art nouveau motifs and colors. The libretto by Gabrielle D’Annunzio captured the poetry of Dante’s Fifth Canto of the Divine Comedy, where the poet writes about Francesca’s fall while reading Galeotto’s Lancelot in the lines when Paolo kissed her and they read no more.

Love at first sight is born when Francesca sees Paolo for the first time as we hear Zandonai’s radiant music expressing the intensity of the feelings of the two characters. We also are aware ironically that Paolo is insincere as he has come to ask for Francesca’s hand for his brother Gianciotto. A major problem arises watching this production because we have to suspend our disbelief seeing Giordani’s face, which is not of the beauty required for Paolo.

So far, the best Direct from the Met opera has been Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, directed by Francois Girard with sets by Michael Levine. In this production, we see a post-apocalyptic world in a future where the earth, due to global warming, lacks pure water and has bloody rivers and a timeless pool of blood where Kundry, the temptress, suffering centuries of reincarnations, sung by Katarina Delayman, tries to seduce Parsifal, sung perfectly by Jonas Kaufmann.

The themes of reincarnation, renunciation, spirituality, compassion, purity in the face of the most powerful evil and suffering are incarnated by such characters as Amfortas, sung by Peter Mattei; Klingsor, the evil one; a satanic looking prince of darkness embodied by Evgeny Nikitin; and R. Pape as Gurnemanz, the leader of the Knights of the Holy Grail.

The theme of salvation and renewal attained by Parsifal reaches its final symbology when Gurnemanz’ living wound is healed as Parsifal brings back the sacred spear and the Holy Grail is shown. Only this type of redeeming love can heal the earth.

We saw two other forms of love. First, in Visalia, the College of the Sequoias (COS) produced Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical with music by Frank Wildhorn and book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, based on the novel by R.L. Stevenson. The musical is immaculately directed by James McDonnell with choreography by Linda Amaral with music by members of the Tulare County Symphony Orchestra.

With only one exception—the waltz dance lacked style and expression—the entire production reached a professionalism to which we have become accustomed at COS. The leading actors, such as Sara Gallegos as Lucy, Danielle Behrens as Emma and especially Brian Pucheu as Jekyll/Hyde, were vocally exceptional and acted their roles with ultimate believability and sincerity.

Pucheu’s interpretation of the two personalities fighting each other where he has to become the two characters instantaneously was an incredible tour de force of acting and singing. The good and the evil natures of man fight inside the actor right in front of our own eyes. This immediacy of duality is rare on the stage. The tragedy in the love theme is that Jekyll has to transform himself into Hyde to be able to physically and sadistically make love to Lucy.

In Norman, Is That You? by Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick and directed by Steve Ross at the Barn Theater in Porterville, we should have seen the love between two men. Gordy Plaisted as Garson and Matthew Nanamura as Norman did not look comfortable in the scenes where they should have shown some sexual chemistry.

All the actors performed their roles rather well, especially Denise Everhart as Mary whose characterization of the good whore will remain in one’s memory for a while. Jip Woudstra was a pleasant surprise as Ben, and Edith Lavonne received applause welcoming her back to the Barn’s stage. This updating of Norman, Is That You? still does not present the true version of the love between two men as it actually happens in real life.

In Francesca da Rimini, one can see some of Stendhal’s seven stages of love: admiration, hope, the birth of love, first crystallization, solitude-absence, doubt and second crystallization with new charms and fears. In Zandonai’s opera, as in the other works reviewed, we find that a form of forbidden love must exist to render a glimpse of the elusive, romantic, passionate love many dream about.

To conclude, I must congratulate the directors of the Winter Concert Series of Three Rivers for producing David Requiro on cello with Jennie Jung at the piano. They played exceptionally well Cesar Franck’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in A Major; Beethoven’s Sonata Opus l02, No. 1; and J.S. Bach’s Solo Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major. The Allemande movement on the last piece mentioned was too choppy, or too staccato and lacked refinement. Otherwise, bravo David and Jennie.


Alfonso C. Hernandez is a writer and poet from Three Rivers, Calif. Contact him at


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