Conflict in the Warrior Archetype: Giuseppe Verdi’s Aïda

Aida © Salih Güler with CCLicense

© Salih Güler with CCLicense

One of the most interesting aspects of the warrior archetype is the conflict between being a warrior and a soldier. This is at the center of Aïda, Giuseppe Verdi‘s opera about a tragic love triangle between a princess, her slave and a mighty warrior.

This week I returned to rehearsals as a member of the world-class Houston Grand Opera Chorus. We are rehearsing Verdi’s masterpiece Aïda. Very poignant during a week in which I was exploring the idea of the warrior here on Synkroniciti. This wasn’t intentional– I went with this theme because I wanted to post about Jeff de Boer’s wonderful cat and mouse armor and ran across lovely quotes by Adrienne Rich and J.R.R. Tolkien. Events in Syria must have tugged on the edge of my consciousness as well.

Synchronicity is everywhere, and I am happy to share with you another part of my creative life, one which has deeply influenced my love of artistic collaboration. The arts combine in a very special way in opera. Aïda in particular requires such spectacular forces, as you can see in this clip from the Teatro alla Scala in Milan from the second act. This is the beginning of what is known as the Triumphal Scene, in which the victorious Egyptians are welcomed back from battle. What a way to celebrate the warrior spirit!

Video via aidacollection on YouTube.

Radamès was chosen by the Goddess Isis to lead the Egyptian forces into battle against the Ethiopians, but he has fallen in love with Aïda, an Ethiopian slave girl serving the Princess Amneris in the Egyptian court, and she has returned his affection. Amneris is also deeply infatuated with Radamès. The Egyptians are unaware that Aïda is actually the Princess of the Ethiopians. As the plot thickens, it becomes impossible for Radamès to reconcile his soldierly duty to pursue the enemies of his country and protect Egypt at all costs with the noble passions and individuality of the warrior in love who must keep his word. Idealism and reality are, as always, on a collision course.

The opera is marked by strong sense of gender equality, especially considering that it was written in 1870. Verdi and Antonio Ghislanzoni, who wrote the words, or libretto, portray the same warrior struggle within the women. In fact, I would say they portray it with more pathos and depth from the feminine perspective. It is Aïda and Amneris we are most moved by in the opera, while the warrior seems powerless and wooden. The ladies get the better music, anyway.

Aprile Millo as Aïda, Metropolitan Opera. Video via Jose Canyusi on YouTube.

Each of the three main characters is forced to betray a part of him or her self. Male or female, there is no easy answer to the inherent conflict between the soldier and the warrior. The following clip lacks translation, but it isn’t really all that necessary. Amneris has committed her act of betrayal and is feeling remorse. The amazing Dolora Zajick is the Amneris in our production as well.

Dolora Zajick as Amneris, Metropolitan Opera. Video via operaworlds on YouTube.

Want to see it sorted out? Aïda is among the most performed of operas, although it is on a scale so grand that it often takes a very large, well-funded opera house to do it justice. I encourage you to catch a production of it near you, or, even better, come see it in Houston, Texas this fall. It is going to be glorious!

Quote for Today: F. Sionil José

Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor CC Licensed Image by   sicklittlemonkey on deviant art

Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor
CC Licensed Image © sicklittlemonkey

There is nothing in the world which an artist cannot recreate into something poetic, ennobling. And why do we read these things? They are not facts, they do not improve our business skills, our techniques in manufacturing goods, the management of a home. That is what most of you will be doing anyway. We read these because they teach us about people, we can see ourselves in them, in their problems. And by seeing ourselves in them, we clarify ourselves, we explain ourselves to ourselves, so we can live with ourselves…

F. Sionil José

Of Mud and Poetry Contests: What Kind of Creative are You?

© Bill Nicholls with CCLicense

© Bill Nicholls with CCLicense

Flowers don’t often grow in clay and piles of mud seldom win sculpture contests. Are you using your creativity effectively?

Mud is a substance with a myriad of uses, from growing plants and housing animals to creating building materials and ceramics. Many traditions speak of man as created from mud, from the union of earth with water. As we use mud and its derivatives to build our cities, we sometimes forget that mud has life of its own.

© Ian Gallagher with CCLicense

© Ian Gallagher with CCLicense

Construction, whether it is of a building, a sculpture, or a simple bowl, depends on placing a hold on the lifecycle inherent in mud. To render a structure stable it must dry out to a great extent. We like to think that this process gives the things we fashion permanence, but erosion and time will destroy and reclaim what has been made, converting it once more to earth and water. Many of our arts and sciences are also an attempt to stop time, to hold on to our tenuous civilization. Just as we often forget that we are dependent on the basic function of mud to grow nourishment and support new life, we often forget that creativity has other purposes than perpetuating tradition and culture, as wonderful as those things are.

© Anwer 21 with CCLicense

© Anwer 21 with CCLicense

I recently entered a peer reviewed poetry contest. Feedback from creative people I knew and respected had been remarkably positive, so I wanted to see how well my poems did with poets themselves. As it turns out, they were resoundingly panned (by the five people that voted on them) and lay near the very bottom of the submissions turned in to the contest. What did I do wrong?

Not understanding the nature of my own work or the qualities sought for by others, I had unwittingly sent a pile of mud to a sculpture contest. Let me explain.

© slworking with CCLicense

© slworking with CCLicense

The style of my poetry is something that I have been honing in the dark for years. Being a self taught poet who was first a classical singer, my inspiration comes largely from the texts of song literature, most of it in foreign languages. My favorites are the French surrealist poets, especially Apollinaire and Eluard, with their abstraction and ambiguity. I insert spaces where my brain stops to find the next word or phrase, shaping my poems more like an abstract picture than a piece of verse. This was inspired by the graphic works of Robert Rauschenberg, and is an integral part of my process. It helps free my subconscious by removing elements of form so that my critical eye is distracted. I am far more interested in discovering what lies behind my thoughts than I am in structure.

The visual patterns I make can be disconcerting, especially in this set, which is called Fractures, about wounded relationships that have become non-functional. One person said that they felt that the poems were structured as if they had been cut from paper and arranged. This is precisely the effect I desired. Another said the pieces were different for the sake of being different, that they needed to be more poetic. A third mentioned that they were a dialogue within the self and were structurally off-putting. Too abstract. Unemotional… a string of description. Wow. I don’t care much for the sentimentality of some poetry, but I would argue that the emotion was all there, especially in the form and word choice which they all found so radical. What they did not know was that the things they complained about were choices that I made because they felt right to me.

Fractures Part 3: Homecoming

Fractures Part 3: Homecoming © Katherine McDaniel, 2012

Some artists feel that they build up, or fashion their works, and some feel as if they dig them out and uncover them, removing elements that don’t belong. Those of the first group are often protectors of institutions and styles. Their talents are important in keeping the beauty and power of what has gone before us in our minds, eyes, and spirits. Equally important are those who dig, bringing out new things and keeping apace with the evolution of the human spirit. These people do things in new ways, operating with the knowledge that not everything they will do will succeed. What a different world it would be if people like Picasso or Beethoven had listened to their critics and played it safe.

© Dumbledad wirth CCLicense

© Dumbledad wirth CCLicense

Traditional arts require a great deal of fashioning and shaping and are ideal for those who operate best when carefully constructing what they envision. I realize now that my natural way of working is by digging, by throwing mud at the wall and seeing what takes shape. I take much more delight in that than creating what is expected, even if it means that others don’t value it.

Are you in the right patch of mud for your skills? If you feel that your creative talents are not traditional and it is hard to find and audience or an outlet, let me encourage you, because I feel our society doesn’t take time to do that. You are the explorers who link us to the creative future; your contributions are important because they may take us somewhere new. And there is a different joy in appreciating something uncommon and unexpected, like discovering a wild place before it becomes a park and the tourists move in. Synkroniciti is a place to find like-minded colleagues, compatriots and playmates who aren’t necessarily comfortable in the cultural establishment.  You and your mud are welcome here. Anytime.

Collaborations with the Self, Nature, and God: Sharon Strong’s Masks

Sharon Strong is a psychologist, a painter, a performance artist and a maker of masks who studied at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Sharon has worked as a psychologist for many years, becoming attuned to faces, body language and the subtlety of movement. Her masks are designed not to conceal, but to reveal the interior of a subject. She found mask making by accident.

I was caught unaware by the power of mask making while working on an autobiographical painting of an enraged, masked woman dancing. Alone in my studio, it was as if a trap door opened and I plummeted down into a ritual space as old as humankind. With heart pounding, barely able to breath[e], I sculpted the first mask in a trilogy of masks depicting anger, grief, and transformation entitled “Dancing on My Father’s Grave”. From those first moments, my masks have become my healers, teachers, guides, and companions. It is a joy to share them with you. –-Sharon Strong

Please enjoy this fascinating video detailing her mask making process and showing a few cool pieces. The video starts slow, but it picks up nicely at about 30 seconds in. Really beautiful and transformative work!

Video via Video2Webb

Quote for Today: Michael Chabon

Hanging Bridge on the Gangavali River, India Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Hanging Bridge on the Gangavali River, India
Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Yet entertainment–as I define it, pleasure and all–remains the only sure means we have of bridging, or at least of feeling as if we have bridged, the gulf of consciousness that separates each of us from everybody else. The best response to those who would cheapen and exploit it is not to disparage or repudiate but to reclaim entertainment as a job fit for artists and for audiences, a two-way exchange of attention, experience, and the universal hunger for connection.”

― Michael ChabonMaps and Legends

Quote for Today: Stephen King

Mano de Desierto by Mario Irarrázabal  © Marcos Escalier with CCLicense

Mano de Desierto by Mario Irarrázabal
© Marcos Escalier with CCLicense

I have never felt like I was creating anything. For me, writing is like walking through a desert and all at once, poking up through the hardpan, I see the top of a chimney. I know there’s a house under there, and I’m pretty sure that I can dig it up if I want. That’s how I feel. It’s like the stories are already there. What they pay me for is the leap of faith that says: “If I sit down and do this, everything will come out OK.

Stephen King


Quote for Today: Doris Ulmann

Ulmann: Man Leaning against a Wall, 1930Creative Commons Licensed Image via americanartsmuseum on Fotopedia

Ulmann: Man Leaning against a Wall, 1930

A face that has the marks of having lived intensely, that expresses some phase of life, some dominant quality or intellectual power, constitutes for me an interesting face. For this reason the face of an older person, perhaps not beautiful in the strictest sense, is usually more appealing than the face of a younger person who has scarcely been touched by life.

― Doris Ulmann