We have a cable service that supplies an obscene amount or programing, most of which I tend not to view. It has become my practice, however, to surf the selections, on occasion. One late afternoon, having watched something else, and having fallen asleep on the day bed in the midst of it, I suddenly realized in some lower area of consciousness, that I was listening to a song in my sleep that was incredibly long. That incredibly long song turned out to be Jacques Demy's Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. Filmed in 1964, in colors that you can't quite believe, it also features the music of Michel Legrand. Arthur walked in as I began to watch this film, now half finished, and we were entranced. On my birthday, Arthur gave me this DVD as a gift. More about the film later.
Arthur, a gregarious person, knows more people than God. So when a friend, David Scott Marley's, new adaptation of the libretto of The Girl of the Golden West, was performed by the Berkeley Opera, we had to go! And I must admit, I went under false pretenses, confusing this opera with The Ballad of Baby Doe, by Douglas Stewart Moore, with libretto by John Treville LaTouche. But, no, this was the first of the spaghetti westerns (a fact that the Berkeley production designer took a bit too seriously - beginning the production with a film, and continuing that theme at the intermission and at the end.) To add to the unusual character of this outing, it was held on an unusually hot day in the Julia Morgan Theater in Berkeley, resurrected out of an old Presbyterian Church designed by Julia Morgan in 1908. It was the perfect place for this opera.
You may be wondering why I am commenting on both of these pieces. As I watched and listened to the opera I kept thinking about The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Both have intense characters. Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) in Umbrellas, and Minnie (Paula Goodman Wilder) play the women that live in times of change - the kind of change that challenges family and tradition. The one attempts to deal with realities of the war in Algeria, and the other makes similar moves during the Gold Rush of 1849. These strong women meet their challenges with solutions that challenged the times in which they lived. Both love passionately, and both make decisions either in reaction to the passion or in the name of it.
The objects of their love, Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) and Roland (Marc Michel), and the forty-niners, Johnson (Pedro Rodelas) and Rance (Torlef Borsting) represent the usual foils to love, at least love seen by the outsider. Guy is inappropriate, an auto mechanic who is not up to the standards set by the mother, Madame Emery. In her eyes the marriage has to center of money and social advancement. Roland Cassard, a wealthy man, catches her eye, and his eye is equally focused on Genevieve. But it is Guy - the wrong one that she dearly loves. Up in the Sierra, there are turned tables. Johnson, Minnie's hope, turns out to be a terrible desperado (again, inappropriate) who has designs on Minnie's bar, and the barrel of gold in which Minnie stores "her boys" gold (and hopes, as the libretto makes abundantly clear). And Rance is the sheriff! Such triangles.
Minnie's story is about redemption, and Genevieve's is about shame. Minnie pulls her man out of shame and onto a new road and onto new hopes. Genevieve, suddenly pregnant by Guy (who is fighting in Algeria) waits for letters, hopes for more from Guy, and gradually drifts into the arms of the man that her mother has waiting in the wings, Roland Cassard (who receives Guy's potential heir, and Genevieve's shame with an uncommon grace and naivete. Guy is abandoned, but soon finds another love, after brief bouts of bad behavior. Later, when Guy and Genevieve meet again - at a gas station - it is as if their love never happened, had been whipped out by apathy and convenience.
We tend to think of families as stable institutions that stand up for old values and that defy change. That forms a great deal of the argument that in former times surfaced around the issues of bi-racial, or bi-religious marriages and relationships, and is now swirling around gay families. One commentator says that Umbrellas is really a movie about the social change in France as it dealt with the Algerian problem. The action is quick and almost too simple - but in it we see the difficulties of readjustment, such as we saw after the Vietnam War. The families in the Sierra are far away - and new families, new relationships peak over the horizon. The men in the opera are invited into the dance hall to dance. There are no women there (which they bemoan) but none-the-less they dance! We all know where dancing leads! Minnie and Johnson leave their home in the Sierra to go to a new place, where they can build their family. Guy stays at home, and changes the individuals whom he thought would be in his life.
Arthur and I found that these two productions formed a nice dialogue of ideas and reflections on what it means to love, to forgive, and to take on burdens, but most of all to just go on...living. I suspect we'll be talking about this for a few more days or weeks.
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